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DCI: Sextortion, Revenge Porn Among Wyo Teenagers Big Problem, Teenage Boys Target

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Sexting, sextortion and revenge porn among Wyoming teenagers is on the rise, experts say, with teenage boys rapidly becoming a growing target.

Cybertips involving reports of sexual internet crimes against children are also on the rise, prompting law enforcement agencies to offer parents, at no charge, an app to help them monitor their children’s online activity

In recent months, law enforcement officers have seen an increase in sextortion cases, particular among juvenile boys between the ages of 11 and 13, according to Chris McDonald, special agent and team leader for the Internet Crimes Against Children division at the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.

Sextortion involves tricking someone into sharing explicit photos or videos online with someone else often posing as a peer. Once the perpetrator has those files in hand, they can be used to extort money or demand additional images or videos from the victim while threatening to share the images with their classmates or parents on social media if the teen doesn’t pay up.

Teens are fooled into it, McDonald said, because they believe they’re talking to a peer whom might also share explicit photos of themselves. But in many cases, any photos sent are actually sent by an adult or nefarious actor masquerading as a teen.

Boys are not immune from these crimes.

“It’s a misnomer that girls are exploited more than boys,” McDonald said. “The boys are being exploited just as often.”

Cybercrimes against children, in general, are up throughout the state, with Wyoming on track to have yet another record year, McDonald said.

In one month, ICAC received more than 100 tips alleging sex crimes against children that came from social media platforms, apps and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

“It scared the bejesus out of me,” McDonald said, saying this year’s report total could exceed last year’s.

Currently, the division is on target to receive about 750 tips over last year’s 615, McDonald said. In 2021, ICAC made 33 arrests based on the tips it received.

Tips, too, have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2019, the department received 262 versus 531 in 2020.

Although the number of tips received by the division continues to grow, the ICAC team doesn’t, forcing the small division of six to work harder to keep up with increased demand. 

In June, ICAC was awarded the Wyoming Joint Symposium on Children and Youth Compassion in Action: Boots on the Ground Award, which is given to a group that serves child victims.

McDonald said he was proud of his team for its Herculean efforts in keeping up with tips and new cases.

Escalating Problem

The most popular platforms used for exploitation that law enforcement agencies are seeing in Wyoming are Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, although there are others.

The biggest trigger to watch for when it comes to determining whether a teen is being exploited is the level of attention the potential suspect invests in the initial communications, McDonald said.

“If someone is showing a whole lot of interest early on in the conversation, we would call that a red flag,” he said.

The biggest piece of advice he has for parents is to monitor their children’s online access and use. 

To help parents and guardians, DCI is offering the Offender Watch App free for download for anyone in Wyoming. 

The app allows parents to receive notifications if a child is communicating with a registered sex offender through texts, emails or phone calls. 

It also notifies parents if the teen or child is in the vicinity of a registered sex offender as well as other useful tools and sample questions a parent can ask the teen to help monitor their online activity.

“I’m in awe of the power young people have in using the internet,” McDonald said, who is also a father. “But they’re just little kids in their minds and don’t yet understand the nuances of what they’re being asked to do.”

Uprising Wyoming, a nonprofit organization focused on human trafficking prevention, outreach and education, conducts regular training sessions with youth. 

Executive Director Terri Markham said her organization’s data also suggests an uptick in explicit content sharing among young people in Wyoming.

“One thing we are seeing a lot of, and having increased conversations about with teens lately, is sexting, sextortion, revenge porn and pornography,” Markham said.

Her agency has collected anonymous data from Wyoming youth ages 12 and older that show these teens are taking part in these activities.

“When we bring it up at that age level, they are already dealing with it,” she said, prompting the nonprofit to create programming for younger students in an attempt to get ahead of the problem.

For more information about this issue and opportunities for education and training, contact Markham at Uprising Wyoming. Additional resources include Thorn.org and Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

DCI is offering the Offender Watch App free for download for anyone in Wyoming. 

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‘Suspicious’ Package Sent To Liz Cheney Staffer In Riverton Deemed Safe

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
clair@cowboystatedaily.com

A suspicious package sent to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s staff in Riverton prompted business evacuations and a “bomb-dog” deployment Thursday afternoon, but the package ultimately was deemed safe.  

The Riverton Police Department was notified at 3:52 Thursday afternoon that a Cheney representative had received a package from Montana with “some strange writing on it,” RPD spokesman Officer Wes Barry told Cowboy State Daily.  

“Based on that package coming from out-of-state, we contacted some of our resources, and those resources said ‘Proceed with caution,’” Barry said.  

The package was brought to the parking lot in front of RPD, which abuts a row of downtown businesses. Police cordoned off the area and evacuated the nearest businesses, said Barry.  

“Then (we) called in the bomb dog from Lander, just in case there was an explosive device,” he added.  

The dog did not alert on the package, which, when opened, contained at least one book.  

There was an enormous personnel response to the incident, said Barry, adding that agents from RPD, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Patrol were in the parking lot, along with volunteers from the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department.  

Barry wasn’t sure where the package was Friday morning, but said the protocol would be for its original “receiver” to have it back since it was found to be safe. He declined to say who had sent the package. 

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Gillette Mother ‘Disgusted’ That Little League Treasurer Who Stole $30k Only Sentenced To 30 Days In Jail

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette mother and former Gillette Little League board member is “disgusted” with the 30-day jail sentence recommended for the league’s former treasurer after he was caught stealing almost $30,000 from the organization.

Melissa Blankenship told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that she thinks Rory Geis should serve prison time or be forced to work off his debt in public through community service.

“As soon as we figured out what was going on, we turned it in,” Blankenship said, noting she was speaking as an individual, not as a board member. “We were all really angry, because we trusted him. We were friends.”

Geis pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft as part of a plea agreement on June 16. A second felony theft count was dismissed. The state recommended a suspended sentence of four to six years in prison with five years of supervised probation and a 30-day jail sentence.

The plea agreement also required Geis to pay $2,300.75 in restitution to the Gillette Little League.

In 2020, Geis was found to have stolen nearly $30,000 from the league between 2019 and 2020.

According to court documents, Troy Stevens, the league’s president called local police in June 2020 after discovering suspicious transactions on the organization’s bank account.

At the time, four board members had credit or debit cards tied to the account which were meant to be used for official Little League business and not personal use.

Blankenship said she felt disgusted that Geis would put himself in a situation where he not only ruined his reputation in the community, he put his family through such a stressful situation, as well.

“I feel like the amount of money that was taken, that wasn’t an accident. It was done very decisively, like he had a plan,” she said. “I feel like giving somebody a 30-day sentence, it definitely isn’t teaching them anything. When you take from a nonprofit organization that’s pretty much funded itself for 50 years, you take money from 800 children.”

She added that if Geis was in need of money, the league’s board would have found ways to help him out, either through fundraising or their own personal revenue streams.

Blankenship said Geis’ theft destroyed a little bit of her faith in humanity, but she also noted it set a bad example for a group of children learning integrity, teamwork and a sense of belonging.

However, she added the team’s new treasurer has been great to work with and new checks and balances have been adopted to keep theft from happening again.

“I think, despite the situation, things have turned out great,” Blankenship said. “But I think he should have to work down at the ballfields, keeping score and taking out the trash at night or putting dirt down, all things the board members do on a daily basis. I think that would teach him a better lesson than 30 days in jail.”

Gillette Little League officials declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing litigation.

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Casper Woman Sentenced To Prison For Helping Boyfriend Sexually Abuse Son

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper woman was sentenced last week to a decade in prison for conspiring to help her boyfriend sexually abuse her young son, court records showed.

Zabrina Thornton was sentenced on June 22 to five to 10 years in prison on two counts of third-degree conspiracy to commit sexual abuse of a minor.

Thornton entered an Alford plea in the case, meaning she did not admit wrongdoing in the case, but acknowledged prosecutors have enough evidence to find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

According to court documents and the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, investigators were contacted in late June 2021 regarding a cybertip received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The tip was in reference to several videos found online which depicted a man sexually assaulting a prepubescent child. The child at one point asked if the man will be done soon, because the child has to go to the bathroom. An identifiable tattoo could be seen on the man’s arm.

Based on information provided in the cybertip and a local law enforcement database, the videos were believed to have originated from 49-year-old Natrona County resident Samuel Rosamond.

Rosamond was living with Thornton and her two young children, an older girl and younger boy.

On June 25, 2021, Rosamond and Thornton were interviewed at the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office. During the interview, Rosamond confessed to sexually assaulting the boy on at least one occasion and recording several videos on his phone during that time.

He said Thornton did not know about and was not involved in the abuse. Thornton also denied knowledge of any abuse being committed by Rosamond.

Based on the evidence and confession, Rosamond was then placed under arrest.

During the investigation, officers found four cameras disguised to look like clock radios which were placed in four different rooms of the residence, three of which were bedrooms.

On July 15, 2021, sheriff’s investigators were contacted by Homeland Security regarding several images of concern captured by the clock cameras in the house. The images depicted Thornton and Rosamond engaged in sexual acts and intercourse with juveniles present.

The two children in the home were immediately placed into protective custody.

Thornton was again interviewed and confessed to participating in sex acts with Rosamond and juveniles in the home on multiple occasions. She was ultimately arrested.

In November 2021, Rosamond pleaded guilty in Natrona County District Court to one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor in accordance with a plea agreement. He was sentenced in March to 38 to 50 years in prison.

Court records also showed Thornton relinquished her parental rights to at least one of her children earlier this year.

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Thermopolis Man Found Not Guilty In Years-Long Incest Case

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Thermopolis man whose conviction a charge of incest was overturned by the Wyoming Supreme Court was found not guilty of the charge earlier this month, bringing an end to a years-long saga that began in 2014.

Justin N. Spence was found not guilty of incest in a Park County District Court, according to a Hot Springs County District Court clerk. The incidents surrounding the charge allegedly took place in Hot Springs County, where Spence’s first trial was held. The results of that trial were overturned by the Supreme Court, which sent the case back to state district court.

According to court filings, Spence was accused by his then 14-year-old niece of sexual assault in July 2014. According to the victim, she, Spence and his then-girlfriend, now his wife, were at Spence’s in house in Thermopolis on July 4, listening to music and drinking alcoholic beverages.

According to Wyoming Supreme Court documents, the girl testified Spence was went into the bathroom and texted the girl that she was “so hot.” She responded, asking if that text was meant for her or his girlfriend. He confirmed it was for her and then sent her a picture of his penis.

The girl said Spence asked her for a nude photo of herself and although she initially refused, Spence told her that if she did not comply, “something was going to happen.” She went outside and sent him a photo of herself in her bra.

After his girlfriend went to bed, Spence pulled the girl on his lap and kissed her. He also digitally penetrated her that night, she said.

Late that night, the girl joined an 18-year-old man who invited her to his apartment nearby, court documents said. The two drank and had sex, but the girl ultimately returned back to her uncle’s apartment.

In August 2014, the girl told one of her school counselors about the incident with Spence. Law enforcement was quickly notified and two police officers and a Department of Family Services caseworker came to speak with the victim.

In the course of questioning by police, documents said, the girl told them “Uncle Justin tried to do [expletive] with me.”

A week later, Spence was interviewed by police and acknowledged his niece stayed at his home that particular evening, but denied giving her alcohol, asking her for nude photographs or touching her inappropriately.

No charges were brought against Spence at the time.

In a later interview with authorities in 2015, the girl discussed Spence sending a picture of his penis to her, demanding a nude photograph from her and his inappropriate touching of her. She also told police Spence questioned why she had sex with the 18-year-old and not him.

Around eight months later, Spence was charged with incest and ultimately found guilty in Hot Springs District Court, but he appealed the ruling and took the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court in 2019 overturned Spence’s conviction, when justices ruled that one of the experts brought forward to testify against him improperly vouched for the credibility of the girl’s testimony through his statements.

Justices found the girl’s credibility was in question during Spence’s trial because of the delays in reporting what happened to her and without the expert’s testimony, Spence “would have enjoyed a more favorable verdict.”

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Police: Green River Double Murder Suspect Dead Of Self-Inflicted Gunshot

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Courtesy, Lynne Sharrock.
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Green River man sought in connection with two killings in a Green River bar fatally shot himself on Friday as police were attempting to take him into custody, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s officials announced.

Police said Friday that Douglas Wolf, 51, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound as law enforcement tried to apprehend him at an occupied industrial building in Rock Springs.

Authorities had been trying to find Wolf since an incident that left two people dead and one wounded at the Embassy Tavern on Thursday night. Rock Springs police and Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies found him early Friday in the building in northern Rock Springs with a firearm pressed to his head. As officers tried to take Wolf into custody, he shot himself.

Police attempted life-saving measures and took Wolf into custody. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 11 a.m. Friday.

During the standoff, residents of the area were told to remain in their homes.

Texas resident Lynne Sharrock, who is visiting Rock Springs, had earlier told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that she and her family had been confined to their home Friday morning, which sits in the area where Wolf took refuge.

“We know that he is in this shop building…they haven’t heard a gunshot, so they do not know if he’s dead or alive,” Sharrock said. “He threatened there would be a shootout, apparently, if he came out. I think they are waiting it out, it’s been hours and those of us close by are now [allowed] to come out of the house until further notice.”



After the standoff ended, Sharrock said she saw authorities leave the area with Wolf.

Sharrock said she and her family began hearing noises in the area at around 3 a.m.

She said she was not necessarily worried about Wolf breaking loose from the building, but was concerned about being struck by a stray bullet should a shootout occur.

“I’m assuming that’s why they won’t let us go outside,” she said. “I’m not [worried] with all the law enforcement and everyone in this house is a hunter.”

Sharrock said there was a command center established at the local fairgrounds for law enforcement and emergency services.

The Green River Police Department announced on Friday that multiple law enforcement agencies in Sweetwater County were investigating the double homicide at the Embassy Tavern.

According to Green River Police Chief Thomas Jarvie, Green River police were called to the an area near the tavern on Thursday night when a reporting party told dispatchers a person had pointed a pistol at them.

As officers were responding to the call, another came in reporting an active shooter at the bar.

Officers arrived on scene to find two people dead and one wounded. The wounded person was taken to the Green River hospital, but the person’s condition was not disclosed.

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Former Gillette Officer Pleads ‘No Contest’ In Sex With Inmate Case

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A former Campbell County jail officer accused of having sex with an inmate recently pleaded no contest to to a felony charge of sexual assault, court filings showed.

Sean Isaac Allen, 31, pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault and saw a charge of third-degree sexual assault dismissed, recent court filings show. He will be sentenced in late July.

“No contest” means Allen did not admit that he committed the crime, but that he did agree prosecutors could obtain a conviction in court on the charges filed against him.

According to a probable cause affidavit, an inmate at the jail reported to Campbell County Sheriff’s Department officials on June 6, 2021, that a relationship was occurring between Allen and a female inmate, identified only as S.R.

The reporting inmate said Allen and S.R. would openly flirt with each other in common areas of the jail block and were having a sexual relationship.

Allen would frequently go into S.R.’s cell with her alone and out of the view of the surveillance cameras when he was working, the reporting inmate said, and S.R. openly bragged about their relationship in the jail block.

The reporting inmate said on several occasions, she heard what sounded like “sexual noises” coming from S.R.’s cell while Allen was alone with her in it.

The jail captain reviewed video footage from the last shift Allen worked and saw he went into S.R.’s cell and out of camera view for several minutes at a time.

The reporting inmate was later interviewed by Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents, when she reiterated her story, saying she noticed something odd between Allen and S.R. such as the flirtatious behavior.

She also said S.R. claimed Allen would bring items to her cell and openly talked about “hooking up” with the officer.

The reporting inmate said the relationship between the two was “obvious” and that she had never seen another detention officer enter an inmate’s cell for the length of time Allen was in S.R.’s.

S.R. allegedly said she was “working on him,” meaning she was trying to get him to do what she wanted, the affidavit said.

Another inmate, K.H., was also interviewed by DCI and told agents that she noticed something “weird” between S.R. and Allen the first day she arrived at the jail, a month earlier.

“There is no way he should be in her cell that long,” K.H. told agents. “There is no way he should have been constantly going in and out of her cell.”

K.H. also said that S.R. was “asking for it” and she would regularly walk around the jail block half-dressed.

The inmates interviewed also told agents S.R. was receiving certain benefits from Allen that the rest of them were not, such as contraband or extra items from the commissary.

When interviewed by agents, S.R. said the relationship began in April, when Allen sneaked into her cell and kissed her in the middle of the night. She said she woke up confused and did not know what the officer was doing in her cell.

He continued kissing the inmate and touched her under her cell jumpsuit, she said, and she performed oral sex on him.

After the first incident, Allen continued coming into S.R.’s cell and kissing her, frequently during the daytime, she said. Allen apparently told the woman he liked the “thrill” of their illicit relationship.

In June, S.R. messaged a man who she had been in a relationship with to end it, noting she would be giving herself “fully to a real man who has his [expletive] together, who’s in the Army…someone who likes me a lot and would never do anything to hurt me and he’d give everything just to make me smile.”

Allen was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves at the time of the message’s writing. He had also been an employee of the jail since August 2018.

He was interviewed in late July by DCI agents and acknowledged he had sneaked into S.R.’s cell in April, but asserted nothing happened between the two. He claimed he did it to feel “an adrenaline rush” and there was no particular reason he selected her cell.

Agents showed Allen the message S.R. sent to her former boyfriend and while he acknowledged the description sounded like him and added he had been monitoring the woman’s calls and messages because of what she said.

However, he also said he never spoke with S.R. about what she wrote or told a supervisor about it.

Surveillance footage showed incidents where Allen could be seen walking toward or away from S.R.’s cell, lining up with claims that the two had been intimate on multiple occasions over the three-month period.

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Downtown Laramie Evacuated After Man Said He Planted Bombs And Was Going To Shoot People

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Photo by Matt Idler
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An anonymous man who claimed to be armed with a large rifle announced he had planted bombs in downtown Laramie on Tuesday forcing evacuation of downtown Laramie.

But local police believe the suspect was involved in a bad prank.

Downtown Laramie was evacuated on Tuesday evening after a man called police dispatch around 5 p.m., claiming he was armed with a large rifle and was wanting to shoot people at a business downtown, according to Laramie Police Department spokesman Lt. Ryan Thompson.

The suspect also claimed to have planted an explosive device in a vehicle in the area. Officers responded and secured the area, evacuating several businesses and residences.

Bomb technicians responded and cleared the suspected vehicle, finding no evidence of any threats. The vehicle which was alleged to have the explosive device was not related to the suspect in any way.

Thompson told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he did not believe the suspect even lived in Wyoming and was just doing the prank to see how police would respond.

“It could be someone trying to gauge our response to try and carry something similar out in the future, but I get the feeling this is more of a prank,” Thompson said. “It’s somebody that needs something to do, unfortunately.”

It took about two hours to clear the scene on Tuesday.

Thompson defined this incident as “swatting,” a criminal harassment tactic of deceiving an emergency service into sending police or emergency services to another person’s address, most often with a false report of a serious emergency such as a murder, hostage situation or mental health emergency.

Swatting is considered a terroristic threat in Wyoming and is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

Thompson said this is not the first time the police department has encountered swatting, but said this incident was more serious, as it included a bomb threat.

Anyone with information related to this crime is encouraged to call CrimeStoppers at 307-742-2273. They could earn a cash reward of up to $1,000 and do not have to give their name. All information is kept strictly confidential.

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Bullet-Ridden Brothers In Riverton Still Not Identified; Police Chief Changes Mind On Facebook

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
clair@cowboystatedaily.com

An investigation into the shooting of two brothers in a Riverton alley is continuing, although police still have not announced the names of the victims or suspects in the incident.

The Riverton Police Department declined to release any more information about the shootings that occurred early Saturday morning and left the two brothers each shot two to four times.

“I have inquired about doing a media release and I was advised (the incident) is still under investigation,” said department communications officer Wes Barry.

The brothers were shot at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in a Riverton alley. Neither of the unidentified men had commented as of Saturday afternoon on the identity of their assailant, one because he was unable to speak because of being shot in the chest.

Both brothers were flown to Casper for medical treatment.

Facebook 180

Meanwhile, the Riverton Police Department backed away from its moratorium on the release of information about crimes through Facebook, a measure put in place after details of the shooting were released.

Police Chief Eric Murphy had originally said he would stop making announcements about crimes via Facebook because commenters could not “be civil” and managing comments was taking away department time that could be spent on investigations.

But Murphy later changed his position, although he did say the department might block the “comments” section of the its Facebook page.

“My earlier post about not posting crimes and very important information is wrong,” Murphy said in an edited version of his post. “I will continue to post vital information to the community but we will probably have to turn off where people can comment for a while.”  

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Man Sentenced To Life For Threatening Woman With Knife And Raping Her Loses Appeal

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man sentenced to up to life in prison on allegations he raped a woman while holding a box cutter to her throat in 2010 has lost his attempt to have his sentence reduced.

Wyoming’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Christopher David Harrell, who tried to have his sentence of 50 years to life reduced on the grounds he was sentenced twice for what amounted to the same crime.

According to a ruling issued in an earlier appeal by Harrell, which was also rejected, he was convicted in 2010 on three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one county of kidnapping and one count of aggravated assault and battery.

According to the earlier ruling, a former girlfriend of Harrell’s, who had obtained a protection order against him, let him stay at her home in Gillette. The two began fighting when, court records said, Harrell threatened her with a hammer and box cutter and raped her. The assault continued through the night.

Before the assault, according to reports at the time in the Gillette News-Record, Harrell asked the woman if she had ever heard of Ted Bundy, a serial killer who decapitated some of his victims.

He told the woman Bundy had worn a severed head on top of his own while driving across three states and then asked the woman if she thought Harrell could reach California while wearing her head.

In his latest appeal, Harrell said he should not have been sentenced to 10 to 50 years on each of the first-degree sexual assault convictions.

Harrell argued that to be convicted of the crime of kidnapping, his victim must have suffered substantial harm, which occurred when he assaulted the woman. He asked that at least one of his sexual assault convictions and sentences should be merged with the kidnap conviction and sentence.

“Mr. Harrell contends that the elements of first-degree sexual assault were included in the ‘substantially harmed’ element of his kidnapping sentence because the sexual assaults were substantial harm, and therefore, he was sentenced twice for the same crime,” the opinion said.

But justices said the two crimes do not overlap and are separate crimes as defined by Wyoming law, so they cannot be merged.

“Applying the same elements test, first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping each require proof of an element that the other does not,” said the opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray. “Mr. Harrell’s claim of double jeopardy is without merit.”

Justices also rejected Harrell’s claim that his previous attorneys in his case were ineffective because they failed to raise the double jeopardy issue earlier his case.

“Where is no error, there is no basis to claim ineffective assistance of counsel,” the opinion said.

The appeal was the fourth filed by Harrell since his conviction. The Supreme Court declined to hear two of his appeals.

Riverton Brothers Shot Multiple Times In Alley Friday Night; Life-Flighted To Casper

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Photo by Clair McFarland, June 18, 2022
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

Two brothers who were shot multiple times before dawn Saturday in a Riverton alleyway had not identified their assailant by Saturday afternoon, but only one was physically unable to do so.  

The Riverton Police Department does not yet have a suspect in the shooting that occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, RPD Chief Eric Murphy told Cowboy State Daily. 

One brother was shot “at least three to four times,” while the other was shot either two or three times, both in an alleyway behind a gas station abutting Riverton City Park. 

The pair went into the gas station to call 911, then were taken for emergency care and later life-flighted to Casper.  

Both were alive early Saturday afternoon, but had “severe” injuries, said Murphy.  

The brothers have been silent about their attacker’s identity for different reasons.

“The guy shot in the chest is (not speaking) due to his medical condition,” said Murphy. “The other brother just isn’t talking.”  

RPD is arranging for a Casper Police Department detective to visit the hospital where the men are receiving care.  

Murphy said he was not yet prepared to disclose the caliber of handgun used to shoot the men.  

“We are literally still just boots on the ground, trying to get a neighborhood canvas right now, find out if anybody had video – we’re still trying to get all that figured out,” he said.  

The gas station security footage shows the men seeking help, but Murphy is hoping other buildings in the area had video capture.   

‘People Cannot Be Respectful’ 

In his initial post to RPD’s Facebook page, Murphy said he was weary of what he described as counter-productive community responses to real-time problems.  

“Apparently people cannot be respectful when I put out information to the public and I unfortunately have to spend my time editing or removing people’s comments instead of helping officers with the actual crime,” Murphy had posted, adding, “this will be the last thing that is posted about crimes in our community.”  

Murphy told Cowboy State Daily that community members have long used the comments section under police announcements to insult and attack one another instead of helping the police and fellow community members address the effects of crime.  

He asked residents to help by scouring their memories for anything that could be related to the case.  

“Call us with information,” he said. “Most of the time, stuff like this is solved by the smallest detail that you can’t even imagine.”  

Anyone who was in the area and awake before 3:30 a.m. should consider every memory, every pedestrian, every small detail from those moments, Murphy said.  

“It’s always the smallest things that you wouldn’t think could help solve crimes, that help us solve it, every time.”  

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Cheyenne Residents Worried After Fentanyl, Cocaine Bust In House Across From Elementary School

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Goins Elementary School, June 17, 2022. By Matt Idler.
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

After a Cheyenne man was charged this week with trafficking fentanyl near a school, the owner of the apartment building he lived in vowed to root out any other issues in her property.  

Robert Butler, 34, was indicted this week by a grand jury for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl near a school and with intent to distribute cocaine.  

Butler had been residing on South Cribbon Avenue, directly across from Goins Elementary School in Cheyenne. He was arrested April 28 when Cheyenne Police Department found cocaine and marijuana in his vehicle following a traffic stop.

When interviewed later that day, Butler admitted to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers that he was a cocaine and marijuana dealer.  

Butler had just traveled to Colorado, he said, to buy $6,000 worth of cocaine.  

One of the DEA officers applied for and received a search warrant for the South Cribbon apartment. In the living room, agents found about 2.2 ounces of suspected oxycodone and/or fentanyl pills, more than 1.8 ounces of suspected cocaine, 2.8 ounces of suspected marijuana, a digital scale and box of sandwich baggies. 

If convicted on both counts, Butler faces up to 40 years in prison and fines of up to $6 million, according to the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, Bob Murray’s office.  

‘Caught Me By Surprise’ 

Carol Ash, whose property management company owns the apartment building where Butler lived, said the whole incident came as a shock to her because the address hadn’t been a source of complaint or problems in the past.  

Nevertheless, said Ash, who learned of the arrest Friday in an interview with Cowboy State Daily, “It’s best that I know (this). I’m going to request a property inspection for that unit.”  

Robert Butler is not the registered tenant at the property, but the registered tenant shares Butler’s surname and is likely a family member, said Ash.  

“We haven’t had any neighbor complaints about (the tenant), and that man has always paid on time and he’s a very gentle soul, so this caught me by surprise,” she said, adding that people don’t always behave the same way as their visiting family members.  

She said there haven’t been other incidents in the complex “as far as I’m aware.” 

The Cheyenne Police Department on Friday did not respond to a voicemail requesting more information about the area.  

Ash said CPD had not notified her of the incident, which also surprised her.  



Been Like That For a While’ 

A resident who lives near the Cribbon apartment said the whole neighborhood has been struggling for at least three years.  

The resident, who declined to be identified out of fear for reprisals, said very few houses in the area are “actually owned” by their occupants and many are rentals and low-income or public housing.  

Ash’s units are privately owned and rented. There are multiple homes in the area owned by Cheyenne Housing Authority.  

“We (see) tenants coming and going all the time,” said the resident. He noted that in the past, there were about 20 teens and children living in one home in the area, some of whom would knock on neighbors’ windows in the night, cause problems at the elementary school, and brandish firearms on school grounds.  

The resident said the teens also seemed “violent” at times.  

But idleness and violence among youth seem to be on the rise in Cheyenne, said the man, adding that he hoped parents would engage their children more and give them real work, play, and purpose.

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Drunken Cheyenne School Bus Driver Charged With 19 Counts, Trial Set For August

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne school bus driver who was arrested earlier this year for driving a bus full of students while intoxicated is facing 19 misdemeanor charges and will go to trial in August, court filings show.

David Richard Williams, 60, faces one charge of driving under the influence, 11 reckless endangering charges and seven charges of endangering children.

He will go to trial on Aug. 18 in Goshen County Circuit Court, a delay from the original trial date of Thursday. The delay was to allow prosecutors to share their evidence against Williams with his attorneys, according to court documents.

Williams was arrested by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper in February while transporting Laramie County School District No. 1 students to a speech and debate tournament in Spearfish, South Dakota.

After he was stopped, he failed a field sobriety test and was then arrested.

His breath test showed Williams had a blood-alcohol concentration of around 0.15%, significantly higher than the level of 0.04% allowed for a commercial motor vehicle driver and almost twice the level of 0.08% at which the driver of a regular vehicle is considered intoxicated.

In-vehicle video showed Williams to be drinking alcohol both before and while driving the students, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA revoked Williams’ commercial driver’s license in March.

Prior to the February arrest, Williams had no violations on his driving record, the Wyoming Department of Transportation previously told Cowboy State Daily.

LCSD1 officials have declined to comment on the situation with Williams, citing personnel reasons. However, the district has implemented new mandatory drug and alcohol awareness training following Williams’ arrest.

The annual recertification class will become part of the training that existing bus drivers are required to take every August during their three-day in-service training prior to the start of the school year.

Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, drivers with a commercial driver’s license are subject to a variety of prohibitions on the use of alcohol prior to and while driving CMVs, including a prohibition on using any alcohol within four hours of driving and a prohibition on driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.04% or greater.    

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Wyoming Has Had More Police Shootings This Year Than Usually Happens In Full Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

As of mid-June, Wyoming has had more police-involved shootings than usually occur in a full year.

Forrest Williams, director of the state Division of Criminal Investigation, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that so far in 2022, there have been seven police-involved shootings.

From 2013 through 2021, the state averaged anywhere from four to six officer-involved shootings per year.

Williams said Wyoming is not alone in this trend, as there have been more and more officer-involved shootings taking place across the country.

“I think this is very concerning from a safety standpoint, both for officers and citizens,” he said.

Campbell, Natrona and Laramie counties have each had at least two officer-involved shootings this year, Williams said. In all the investigations investigations completed so far, the officers have been cleared of wrongdoing.

The most recent officer-involved shooting took place on May 28, when Cheyenne law enforcement shot and killed Davin Darayle Saunders, a Nebraska man sought in connection with a murder that took place in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, earlier that week.

Cheyenne Police Department spokeswoman Alex Farkas declined to comment further on the shooting on Wednesday, citing an ongoing investigation.

The police department this week released dash camera footage of the confrontation, but it was unclear if there was available body camera footage. The dash camera footage showed only officers gathered near a house where Saunders had been hiding.

Williams said because every officer-involved shooting is a unique and complex situation, he did not have a timeline on when the Saunders shooting investigation would be completed.

Cheyennne Shooting

According to the Cheyenne Police Department, officers went to a Cheyenne home on May 28 to conduct surveillance and later entered the home in search of Saunders.

While on the scene, officers attempted to communicate with Saunders and asked him to leave the residence, but he refused.

Officers deployed gas in an attempt to force Saunders out of the home, but he pulled out a firearm. Officers saw this and fired on him, killing him.

Saunders was wanted in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, for multiple homicide-related charges. He had a history of violence. Saunders’ alleged victim was identified as Karen Cooper, 63, of Scottsbluff, who died as a result of gunshot wounds in late May in a Scottsbluff residential neighborhood.

According to The Washington Post, around 1,000 people are killed every year by police. An “overwhelming” majority of the people killed are young men between the ages of 20 and 40, the newspaper said.

The outlet reported that the states with the highest rates of officer-involved shootings are New Mexico, Alaska and Oklahoma.

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Newcastle Police Chief Pleads Guilty To Domestic Battery, Resigns

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The city of Newcastle is searching for a new police chief following the arrest of the town’s former chief in late May on a charge of domestic battery.

Chief Samuel Keller was arrested on May 30, according to Weston County Circuit Court documents.

He pleaded guilty to the charge one day after his arrest and also immediately resigned from his position at police chief, leaving the Newcastle City Council to find a replacement.

Weston County Sheriff Bryan Colvard told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that in his entire career as a deputy or sheriff, he has never seen such an incident.

Weston County Sheriff’s deputies responded to and investigated the incident, which occurred at a Newcastle home, because investigating the case would have put Newcastle police in a conflict of interest.

“We were asked to look into this report, for obvious reasons,” Colvard said.

Keller was sentenced on June 8 to probation until December and received a suspended 178-day jail sentence, with credit for two days served.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the charge against Keller, deputies responded to a call about an incident at the home on May 30.

When officers arrived on scene, they met with an unidentified female victim, who had a cut under her right eye, along with fresh and dried blood and mud on her face.

She told police she flipped Keller backward in a chair and he threw a full beer in the air which “caught her in the face.” The victim said she thought it would be a joke to tip him back in the chair, but Keller got mad and threw the full beer can at her.

“She stated she tipped him back in the chair like he has done to her in the past,” the affidavit said. “She did state he threw (the beer) full force at her face. She ran about approximately 8 feet away, where he picked up the full beer and threw it.

The woman said she and Keller talked about the incident for a while and “drank some more beer, along with the one that was thrown,” the affidavit continued.

She also said she got mud on her face because she fell when Keller threw the beer can at her.

Keller told police that he and the woman had “pushed each other’s buttons” and also consumed too much alcohol. He also asked police to secure his weapons and his vehicle after he was informed of his arrest.

According to Keller’s page on “LinkedIn,” he took over as chief at the department in September 2020.

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Former State of Wyoming Employee Arrested For Riot Charges With White Supremacists In Idaho

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A former Wyoming Department of Audit employee is the second person with Wyoming connections to be arrested as part of a white supremacist group on Saturday accused of conspiring to riot at a gay Pride event in Idaho, law enforcement authorities said.

James Michael Johnson, 40, who worked as a senior auditor for the Wyoming Department of Audit as of late 2020, was charged with conspiracy to riot along with 30 other members of the group “Patriot Front.”

Johnson now lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Also among the 31 arrested Saturday was Dylan Carter Corio, 21, who, according to the police report, resides in Cheyenne. 

The group of 31 Patriot Front members, wearing riot gear, were arrested in the back of a U-Haul truck near a park in Coeur d’Alene on Saturday afternoon.

A tipster told police he saw the group of men, who looked like a “little army,” get into the U-Haul in a hotel parking lot.

Police said the group was planning on rioting. Smoke grenades, shin guards and shields were found in the U-Haul van. 

Police pulled the truck over before it could get to the park. As dozens of officers surrounding the U-Haul, the men were escorted out at gunpoint. Their hands were then zip-tied and they were put on their knees before being arrested.

Active In Local Politics

Johnson was active in politics during the 2020 campaign season. Originally, he planned to run for mayor and was often involved in conflict with a former Cheyenne mayor on social media and at city council meetings.

Johnson was asked to leave one city council meeting in 2019 because he ran over his allotted time to speak and started yelling at the mayor and the council members when told his time had expired.

Johnson dropped his bid for mayor and decided to run for city council instead. It was then that he described his political ideology, expressing fears of Cheyenne turning into Denver or Portland with “Black Lives Matter riots and Antifa riots every night.”

State Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said he was confrontational in his dealings with him and others.

“It’s not surprising that Mr. Johnson was arrested for his part in the planned attack in Idaho,” Brown said. “He displayed very poor judgment and uncivil dialogue with many others during his time in Cheyenne.”

“His group of friends in Cheyenne should take note that this type of “political discourse” is not only highly frowned upon but down right illegal,” Brown said.

Sara Burlingame, Executive Director of Wyoming Equality and former state legislator, told Cowboy State Daily she was not surprised to see that Johnson was arrested on Saturday.

“Was I shocked to see a local darling of the alt-right show up in a lineup of thugs? Of course not,” Burlingame said.

“One word describes it: predictable. This guy harassed our office, made a public spectacle of maligning LGBTQ advocates and was embraced by the state party. Of course he’s hiding out in a U-Haul in Idaho, of course he’s looking to attack defenseless people out celebrating PRIDE,” she said.

Rod Miller, former gubernatorial advisor to two Wyoming governors and now a political columnist for Cowboy State Daily, wrote a letter to the editor in 2020 to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle expressing his concern over Johnson’s use of “divisiveness, fear, hate, and extreme right-wing zealotry” in his bid for city council.

“Johnson marches around downtown armed with a gun or a baseball bat, claiming to be keeping us safe,” Miller wrote. “Johnson’s campaign social media pages are chocked full of hyperbole and right-wing fear.”

Johnson and Corio, along with the other 29 men arrested on Saturday, posted bond on Sunday and are expected to be arraigned on Monday.

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Idaho Police Were Surprised At White Supremacist Group’s Preparation, Equipment

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The amount of preparation a white supremacist group put into starting a riot at a LGBT Pride event in Idaho this weekend shocked law enforcement, the local police chief said on Monday.

One current and one former Cheyenne resident were two of 31 men, identified as members of the white supremacist group “Patriot Front,” who were arrested in Couer d’Alene on Saturday and accused of conspiring to riot at the event.

The 31 were riding in a U-Haul van that was stopped by police because of a tip a person had seen an “army” loading up in the vehicle. When they were arrested, the men were wearing what was described as riot gear and a smoke grenade and riot shields were found in the vehicle.

Couer d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said during a news conference on Monday that while law enforcement knew after receiving the tip they would be stepping into a dangerous situation, they were surprised they were surprised at how well-prepared the men were.



“We knew that we would be facing a crowd of people who might pose some difficulty for us,” White said. “I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw, but the equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals, along with the large amount of equipment that was left in the van when the stop happened.

“That level of preparation is not something you see every day…it was clear to us there was some ill intent there,” he continued.

He said that all 31 of the involved men are currently charged with conspiring to riot, a misdemeanor. If they do not arrive for their scheduled court dates, a warrant will be issued for their arrests.

White could not comment on whether the men would see federal charges from the incident or whether the Patriot Front had connections to other far right groups.

White said the Saturday arrest was an example of one person speaking up when seeing something suspicious, preventing a potentially dangerous situation.

“One concerned citizen can prevent something horrible from happening,” he said.

James Michael Johnson, 40, who worked as a senior auditor for the Wyoming Department of Audit as of late 2021, was one of the men charged. Johnson now lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, according to police records.

Also among the 31 arrested was Dylan Carter Corio, 21, who resides in Cheyenne.

Both Johnson and Corio posted bond on Sunday.

Rumors began circulating online over the weekend after the arrests that the men were not actually Patriot Front members, but part of “Antifa,” a left-wing political movement that denounces fascism and has become known for violent confrontations.

White confronted the claims head-on during the news conference, telling reporters that he would be transparent about whatever group the men were members of, no matter the political ideology.

“We’re required to remain completely apolitical and neutral, and that’s what we do in our jobs,” he said. “That’s what we did in this enforcement action. Whether the van was loaded with people who are part of that far right group or Antifa, it would be handled exactly the same.”

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Cheyenne Man Arrested In Hate Group Conspiracy To Riot At Gay Pride Event In Idaho

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man has been identified as one of 31 alleged members of a white supremacist group arrested Saturday and accused of conspiring to riot at an Idaho gay pride event.

Dylan Carter Corio, 21, was charged with criminal conspiracy, accused of being a part of the far right group “Patriot Front” that was planning to riot at the event in Coeur d’Alene, according to arrest records from the Kootenai County Sheriff’s office.

Corio posted bail on Sunday morning, according to Kaye Thornbrugh from the Coeur d’Alene Press. The men arrested were scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.


Mug shot of Dylan Carter Corio

“They came to riot downtown,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said at a press conference following the arrests. 

According to law enforcement officials, the men were inside a U-Haul truck which was detained after authorities received a tip that the group was heading to a park where the event was to be held.

A citizen called the police to report he saw dozens of men wearing masks and carrying shields get inside a U-Haul at a hotel.

A video shared on Twitter which has been viewed more than 10 million times shows police officers with their guns trained on the U-Haul truck as as one officer opens up the back door.

The men inside the truck, wearing masks, sunglasses and hats all have their hands up, surrendering.

The men were then taken out of the truck one-by-one, their hands were zip-tied and they were put on their knees.

Authorities said they found evidence that showed the group was planning to riot throughout the community, not just the park.

The Anti-Defamation League told the New York Times that Patriot Front often stages in “flash demonstrations” where the group disrupts events with smoke bombs in order to make social media content.

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Florida Man Pleads Not Guilty To Transporting Utah Teen To Wyoming For Sex

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Florida man accused of picking up a 13-year-old girl in Utah with plans of taking her to Florida recently pleaded not guilty to a charge of transporting a minor across state lines with the intent of having sex with her, according to federal court filings.

Christopher S. Evans, 25, of Fort Pierce, Florida pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming on May 31 to the charge of transporting a minor across state lines with intent to commit sexual contact and sexual intrusion.

His trial is set for July 7. He faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison and a $250,000 fine for the charge.

Evans was arrested at a Cheyenne truck stop in March and the girl was found inside of his vehicle.

According to court documents, the 13-year-girl was reported missing from her Roosevelt, Utah, home by her parents on the morning of March 8. The girl’s phone was discovered in her bedroom, along with her Oculus virtual reality gaming headset.

It was reported that the girl had been in contact with Evans through the video game platform and a message that said “Waiting,” sent by him, was discovered on the headset, indicating that he was the one who picked up the girl.

The two had been communicating for more than a month.

Using his online accounts, police were able to track Evans’ location through his cell phone. Around 3 p.m. on March 10, he and the girl were found to be at a Love’s truck stop in Cheyenne inside of his semi-truck.

Evans was taken to the Laramie County Detention Center after his arrest, where he admitted to police that he was aware the girl was 13.

He also said they were boyfriend and girlfriend and that their plan was to go to Florida to live together and pursue a relationship.

The girl told police she and Evans communicated these plans to friends on the Oculus platform.

During their two nights in the truck, the two slept in the bottom bunk of Evans’ semi-truck. He admitted to touching her bare breast and over the clothes in her vaginal area.

The girl said Evans asked to have sex with her, but it was not clear from court documents whether they did.

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Jackson Woman Banned From Grand Teton For Lying About Missing Irish Hiker

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The National Park Service has banned a former Jackson woman from Grand Teton National Park for five years for knowingly providing false information to law enforcement about a missing Irish hiker, officials said Thursday.

The park service said Heather Mycoskie, 40, knowingly provided false information and a false report in the search for missing hiker Cian McLaughlin, who was last seen on June 8, 2021. In addition to her park ban, Mycoskie was ordered to pay $17,600 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

An investigation revealed that on June 21, 2021, Mycoskie provided false information to investigators about seeing an individual matching the description of McLaughlin.

As a direct result of Mycoskie’s false report, approximately 532 hours were spent conducting searches, managing search efforts, conducting follow up investigations and completing associated reports.

This wasted valuable time that could have been focused on searching areas of higher probability, according to park officials.

McLaughlin is still missing.

Mycoskie reported she saw McLaughlin in the late afternoon/early evening of June 8, 2021, the day of McLaughlin’s disappearance.

She also told investigators the missing man was hiking on the south side of the Bradley-Taggart moraine in Grand Teton National Park and was headed south towards Taggart Lake where he planned to jump off his favorite rock into the water.

Officials said Mycoskie provided a “very detailed” description of McLaughlin and stated she had a discussion with him in which he shared where he lived, where he was from and his place of employment.

The subsequent investigation revealed Mycoskie never saw anyone matching McLaughlin’s description on June 8, 2021 in Grand Teton National Park. Witnesses reported Mycoskie fabricated the sighting to ensure search efforts continued.

All other reported sightings of McLaughlin were on the trail system that leads towards Garnet Canyon, Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes and Delta Lake, according to NPS officials.

In September 2021, computer forensics revealed McLaughlin had conducted several internet searches focused on Delta Lake just prior to his hike.

Backcountry users in Grand Teton National Park are encouraged to contact the tip line, 888-653-0009, if they locate any of the items that McLaughlin was suspected to have had with him at the time of his disappearance.

These include a red Apple watch, a red iPhone 12 mini, gold wire-rimmed sunglasses, a silver U shaped pendant and a white t-shirt.

According to an article by the Irish Times, McLaughlin is a Dublin native who works as a snowboard instructor in Jackson. The newspaper also noted his Facebook page said he started working at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in December 2020 and that he previously lived in the French ski resort town of Chamonix.

McLaughlin’s mother visited the park last fall and told an Irish news outlet she was prepared to recover, not rescue, her son.

McLaughlin was the only person who disappeared in the park last summer to not yet be found. Gabby Petito was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest, not far from the park, in mid-September and her death has been ruled a homicide.

Robert Lowery also was last seen in Grand Teton last August, and his body was found in September, as well. His death was ruled a suicide.

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Mills Police Capture Missouri Fugitive Who Cut Hole In Jail Ceiling To Escape

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Ellen@Cowboystatedaily.com

Mills police officers on Wednesday apprehended a fugitive from southwestern Missouri who managed to escape from his jail cell by cutting a hole in the ceiling, law enforcement officials announced.

On Wednesday morning, the U.S. Marshal’s Office notified Natrona County law personnel that Christopher Blevins, 37, was possibly in the area.

Blevins and two other inmates were discovered missing from their cell in Barry County, Missouri on June 3. Police believe the inmates escaped the night prior by cutting a hole in the cell’s ceiling to enter a water heater storage room.

The U.S. Marshal’s Office took charge of the search after the inmates’ escape.

Mills police received information that Blevins, who was reported to be armed and dangerous and driving a gold Dodge Ram with a female passenger, was possibly at the Ghost Town truck stop in Casper.

Police arrived at the gas station about 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday and observed a gold Dodge Ram with a male driver and female passenger. Once the driver saw the police, he drove off.

A chase reaching speeds of up to 80 MPH ensued for about two minutes before the driver pulled to the side of the road. He was identified as Blevins and taken into custody, more than 900 miles away from the jail he escaped.

The female passenger was not identified and was released by police, pending further investigation.

Lance Stephens and Matthew Crawford, the men who escaped with Blevins, had not yet been found by authorities as of Thursday.

According to Barry County Jail records, Blevins was booked into jail on April 4 on a litany of drug and firearm charges.

Cheyenne’s longest-serving police chief Brian Kozak, who is now running for Laramie County Sheriff, said he was surprised to hear of the escape from the Missouri jail.

“I’m shocked to hear that,” Kozak told Cowboy State Daily. “Jails need to be constructed in a manner where that can’t happen.”

Even at the newly-constructed police station in Cheyenne, where inmates are not held, the detaining and interview rooms have hardened ceilings and walls so escapes aren’t possible, he said.

“If it’s an older jail, it’s the responsibility of law enforcement to have it inspected to ensure escapes cannot occur,” he said.

If money is an issue so repairs can’t be made, Kozak said inmates need to be watched constantly.

The problem, according to Barry County Sheriff Danny Boyd, is understaffing.

“Nobody can go in the back to deal with the inmates,” Boyd told Springfield, Missouri’s KY3 TV station. “You can’t go back there by yourself. You always have to have somebody with you, which would leave the front booking office open. It’s a safety issue all the way around, and if we don’t have enough people to staff it, we have to go with what we’ve got and do it the best we can.”

The inmates were at large for more than 12 hours before the escape was discovered, according to media reports.

Mills police did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

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Casper Police Release Information On Abortion Clinic Fire Suspect As Video Footage Emerges

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Ellen@cowboystatedaily.com

A white female has been identified as a suspect who started a fire in late May that caused significant damage to an abortion clinic in Casper, according to the city’s police department.

Casper police officials on Tuesday released information about the arson suspect, asking the public to help identify her. She is believed to be of medium build and stands between 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 8 inches.

The fire at Wellspring Health Access on May 25 caused “significant” damage, according to previous Cowboy State Daily reporting.

The suspect was wearing a surgical mask for the majority of the time she was captured on surveillance footage, except for one moment when she pulled the mask down.

Police believe the suspect acted alone in the arson. She entered the building around 2:30 a.m. on May 25 and was inside for around 15 minutes, according to Casper police.

Police and fire services arrived to the clinic around 4 a.m. A witness reported the suspect was reported running away from the site – carrying a gas can and a black bag.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides information leading to an arrest of the suspect. Those with information are encouraged to call the ATF at 307-633-9400.

The FBI is also investigating the arson, as is the bureau’s policy to investigate whenever there is a violent crime that has happened at an abortion provider. The clinic will provide other services in addition to abortion.

Wellspring owner Julie Burkhart did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Burkhart previously said the fire would not prevent the clinic from opening.

“This is something I’ve been afraid of happening,” she said after the fire. “I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I’ve seen vandalism, flooding, defacing property and buildings, but never arson.”

The clinic has drawn much controversy since its opening was announced last month.

The new clinic between downtown Casper and the Wyoming Medical Center will be operated by Wellspring, which is incorporated in Washington, D.C., and headed up by founder Burkhart, who is based in Colorado.

The clinic is funded by private donors and has been created and supported by a community advisory board of 15 people, Burkhart previously said. These include faith leaders, tribal communities and health care advocates.

Wyoming has only one abortion provider and 96% of Wyoming women live in a county without an abortion clinic.

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Casper Police Found Justified In Fatal Shooting Evansville Man In March

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Photo courtesy: Curtis Forntin
20711

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Natrona County District Attorney has found that four Casper police officers were justified in shooting and killing an Evansville man during an 18-hour standoff with police in March.

Casper police officials announced the findings on Tuesday. Department spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd declined to provide additional comment to Cowboy State Daily.

“The question to be answered is did law enforcement use reasonable self-defense,” Natrona County DA Daniel Itzen wrote in a June 3 letter to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. “In this case, it was Clutter who shot first each and every time the officers responded.”

“Officers talked about how close the bullets were. In fact, one person’s boots had bullet holes in them. It was painfully obvious that Clutter wanted to kill police officers,” Itzen continued. “All alternatives to end this situation peacefully were tried. It was Clutter’s actions, and his actions alone, that led to this result. Each of these officers have a legitimate self-defense claim or a defense of another claim.”

Police became involved in a stand-off with Blaine Clutter, 29, on March 18 after Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agents attempted to serve the man with an arrest warrant.

Clutter shot at the agents then barricaded himself in his Evansville home.

Several nearby law enforcement agencies responded to assist the DCI team as the situation grew increasingly dangerous. Clutter was firing at the officers and into the surrounding neighborhood.

The standoff between Clutter and police lasted about 18 hours as officers negotiated with him and used non-lethal tactics in attempt to get him to leave the residence.

In the early hours of March 19, four Casper officers returned fire at Clutter after he shot at them, again. It was during these final shots that Clutter was believed to have been fatally wounded by an officer’s bullet.

An autopsy investigation by the Natrona County Coroner’s Office later confirmed this.

No body camera footage of the final shootout between police and Clutter was captured, due to the officers’ camera batteries wearing down during the 18-hour standoff, according to the police department.

The four officers involved in the standoff have since returned to duty.

Anthony Pete Hernandez has identified himself on social media over as Clutter’s father and apologized to the law enforcement involved in the standoff.

“I want to say sorry to all Law Enforcement Officers for my son actions during that stand off with him on Friday and Saturday,” he wrote on Facebook after the shooting. “I’m thankful to God he didn’t wound or kill any of you well you all where doing your job. I talked to some very good hearted people in the Natrona County Sheriff Department that feeled [sic] me in on how it when down and ended.

“I’m very grateful you all tried your hardest to have him give his self up and surrender even though he was trying to hurt you all. May God always protect you all sincerely!” Anthony Hernandez continued. “My son’s acting was way wrong no matter what mind set he was in. He was my son I will miss him. People that need help get it please.”

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Another Gillette Resident Out Thousands After Bitcoin Scam

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Another Gillette resident has reportedly lost tens of thousands of dollars to a Bitcoin scam, Gillette Police told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Gillette Deputy Police Chief Brent Wasson said that an unidentified 62-year-old man reported to Gillette police on Friday that he had been scammed out of around $20,000. The man said a woman convinced him to participate in Bitcoin investments.

“Starting in May, he’d been in contact with a woman claiming to be from Greenhouse Investment Group,” Wasson said. “She offered to help him invest and he’d been investing with her. The exact amount hasn’t been determined, but it’s estimated by around $20,000.”

He could not say how the woman initially contacted the victim.

Greenhouse Investment Group is an Ireland-based investment firm focused on European enterprises.

Laura Baker, executive director of cybersecurity group CyberWyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that unfortunately, Bitcoin scams were becoming all too common in the state.

“Hackers are actually targeting Wyomingites about cryptocurrency scams because we pride ourselves in being a leader in blockchain,” she said. “There was a huge spike in cryptocurrency investment scams last year.”

Wasson said the police have requested bank statements and are investigating the man’s claims. He said officers will look into the man’s communications with the woman and attempt to track IP addresses and identify the suspect.

Scams in the Gillette area are not uncommon lately.

Just two weeks ago, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office told Cowboy State Daily that a local woman had been scammed out of $30,000 through a Bitcoin scam.

The woman was contacted by a man identified as “Stephen Weiner,” who claimed he worked with the Bush Foundation and was offering her a grant, but required a small investment first.

Over a two-month period, the 56-year-old victim made several transactions, converting cash into Bitcoin through an ATM at a local convenience store.

In March, a woman lost $800 in a puppy scam through Facebook when a person posing as someone selling a puppy requested funds for an animal that did not exist. The buyer sent the money, believing the animal to be real.

That same month, a Gillette man reported being scammed out of $15,000 by a woman he had never met face-to-face.

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$50K Worth Of Copper Stolen From Sheridan College

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

About $50,000 worth of copper construction materials was stolen on Sunday from the Sheridan College campus, a Sheridan Police spokesman told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

On Sunday afternoon, Sheridan police investigated a reported theft and determined a 26 foot double-axel enclosed trailer belonging to Powder River Heating and Cooling had been stolen, along with the materials inside.

The suspect forced their way onto the job site by cutting the locks on a gate, according to department spokesman Captain Tom Ringley.

“This would be industrial-level stuff, which is what we usually see when we do have copper thefts in Sheridan, which is not that often,” Ringley said. “This is the first one we’ve seen in several years.”

Police currently have no description of the thief or thieves.

The trailer was recovered Monday morning at another location on campus, but the construction materials inside were gone. The estimated value of the copper materials is at least $50,000.

Ringley said that copper thieves will usually take their stolen goods to scrap metal dealers or recyclers, hoping to score big money for their wares. As of Monday, the price of copper was $4.36 per pound.

The Sheridan Police Department has been in touch with neighboring cities and metal recyclers, asking them to be on the lookout for large amounts of copper construction materials coming through.

Copper thefts are common, but according to the FBI, copper thieves threaten the nation’s infrastructure.

The FBI said that copper thefts disrupt the flow of electricity, telecommunications, transportation, water supply, heating, security and emergency services and present a risk to both public safety and national security.

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Sundance Tow Truck Driver Accused Of Stealing Dead Man’s Possessions Pleads No Contest

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A Sundance tow truck owner charged with theft following a fatal crash last summer has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Norman “Gus” Sampson of Iron Horse Towing pleaded no contest on June 1 to a single charge of theft in connection with allegations he stole tools and other items from the pickup truck belonging to 41-year-old Shon Engel. 

Engel was killed in early August in a single-car accident near Sundance.

A no-contest plea signifies that the accused accepts the conviction but avoids a factual admission of guilt.

Missing Items

Sampson was called by the Wyoming Highway Patrol to the scene of the crash on I-90, near Sundance, to tow the vehicle and collect the items strewn throughout a field.  

The WHP trooper took several photographs of the crash site, documenting several items including a $200 pair Maui Jim sunglasses, a red Yeti cup Shon’s parents had just purchased for him, a large knife, a chair and lots of tools and other items scattered in the grass.

Sampson said he gathered all the items and put them in the back of the damaged vehicle for the family to collect, which he said took him about three hours to collect.

A few days later, however, when Engel’s older brother, Jim Engel, came to pay the towing bill and retrieve his brother’s items, he said there was nothing in the back of the pickup truck. Engel said he then drove up to Sampson’s shop to pay him $750 in cash for the bill and asked about his brother’s belongings.

Sampson refuted that fee and told Cowboy State Daily that he charged Engel $500. 

Jim Engel said that Sampson again told him that everything he had collected from the accident was in the back of the truck, but Engel hadn’t been able to find anything.  



However, when Engel went into the shop, he said he saw the Red Yeti cup sitting on a table and spotted a large pile of tools and Shon’s knife sticking out of a red toolbox. 

His brother was a mechanic, Jim Engel said, and kept hundreds of dollars of tools in his pickup.

When questioned, Sampson reported he had forgotten about the items and told Engel could take them. Engel then said he asked about the remaining items but was told that was everything. 

He filed a report with the Crook County Sheriff’s Office. 

Citation

When questioned by Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Kaminski, Sampson repeated that he had placed everything belonging to Shon in the back of the vehicle, adding that Jim Engel and Shon’s best friend David Watt had repeatedly harassed him and threatened to beat him up if they didn’t get the possessions back, according to the incident report provided by the Crook County Sheriff’s Office. 

Kaminski informed Sampson there was photographic evidence of the accident site showing all of Shon’s possessions, according to the report. 



Sampson said he didn’t know where the items were and that maybe Jim Engel had taken them when he was rummaging around in the truck, the report said. 

The deputy then went to his wrecker and lifted the drop deck where Shon Engel’s Maui Jim sunglasses were found sitting in a bed box underneath the deck, the report said, along with a hammer also belonging to Shon Engel. 

About 20 minutes later, Sampson contacted the sheriff’s office to report finding a few more of Shon’s items, including several sockets, a hammer, crescent wrench and other tools.

Sampson was issued a citation for theft on Dec. 8, 2021. 

Doubting His Plea

Sampson initially requested a jury trial that was scheduled for later this month but entered the no contest plea to the single charge of theft in his pre-trial conference on June 1, according to Cindi Baudhuin, chief clerk of Crook County Circuit Court. 

Sampson told Cowboy State Daily Thursday that the decision to enter the no contest plea was done rashly after a short discussion with his public defender who he had just met that day. He said that later that night, he doubted that decision and thought he should have requested the jury trial to prove his innocence.

He said he did not steal anything and put everything he’d found into the wrecked vehicle.

“I didn’t steal anything from his brother, but he (Engel) won’t listen to me,” he said. “He’s bullheaded.”

He said he’d overlooked the items that he had stuck in the back of his truck during the cleanup and didn’t notice them under the drop deck because he hadn’t looked there and hadn’t thought about it. He also said he didn’t realize that any of the items in his shop belonged to Shon Engel.

Sampson has since been removed from rotation by WHP and the Crook County Sheriff, he said, and hasn’t worked for the past 10 months. He is still authorized to tow vehicles, however. 



He said this is his first complaint in the 13 to 14 years he’s been in business and that he understands how emotionally wrought the process is for the family of loved ones who die in automobile crashes and said it’s also hard for him, too.

“I didn’t steal anything,” he said. “The only thing I’ve gotten is a bad reputation and I want my name cleared.”

For his part, Engel said he’s just glad it’s over and wasn’t looking forward to putting his parents through the pain of sitting through a trial.

“I have mixed emotions about it,” he said. “I was looking forward to sitting in the courtroom and hearing him justify stealing dead people’s memories, but it’s better for my parents not to have to sit through it.”

Engel said he pursued the case because it was a matter of principle.

“You just don’t do that,” he said. “It’s not right.”

It’s not about money, Engel added, but rather having his brother’s memories returned.

Sampson will appear for a judgment and sentencing on June 24.

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Douglas Couple Arrested For Embezzling From Glendo Church They Pastored

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20562

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Douglas couple has been arrested and charged for allegedly embezzling more than $200,000 from a Glendo church in which they pastored.

Lynda and Martin “Marty” Roark both have been charged with misdemeanor and felony theft and each had preliminary hearings in Platte County Circuit Court on Tuesday, although it was not immediately clear if they submitted any plea.

According to the Platte County Record-Times, the couple was arrested as they arrived from a flight from Belize and then taken to the Colfax Detention Center in Denver. 

According to court documents, the Roarks made unauthorized purchases with the Circle G Cowboy Church accounts between August 2015 and January 2022.

Two church officials made Platte County authorities aware that the Roarks had been misusing the accounts. They and another witness provided verbal statements and financial documents showing the Roarks were using funds for personal use.

After officials began investigating all of the bank accounts, they found nearly $210,000 had been stolen or misused by the Roarks.

According to court documents, the Roarks used some of the money to fund “several” trips to Belize, which one church member confirmed were not for missionary purposes.

On Lynda Roark’s Facebook page, she describes herself as a “Jesus lovin’ Mama/Gigi who happens to be married to my very best friend! I love Belize!”

Additionally, some of the funds were used to purchase Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting or fishing licenses and “large” cash withdrawals.

Each of the Roarks posted $5,000 bond at the end of April and have been free since.

The couple has also pastored at Crossroads Baptist Church in Douglas, but none of their charges were related to their involvement at that church.

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Fiancé Of Missing Gillette Woman Pleads Not Guilty To Felonies Related To Crimes Against Her

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The 38-year-old fiancé of a missing Gillette woman and person of interest in her disappearance has pleaded not guilty to five felonies relating to crimes against her.  

Nathan J. Hightman has been accused of transferring more than $3,000 from Irene Wairimu Gakwa’s bank account into his account, maxing out her credit card on purchases including boots and a shovel, deleting her email account, and changing her banking password.

Hightman pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday afternoon, according to his attorney, Steven Titus.

Irene, a 32-year-old woman from Kenya, is still missing and the Gillette Police Department have no new updates at this time.

She was last seen alive during a video call with her parents on Feb. 24 and was reported missing by her brother on March 20.

Hightman told the Gillette Police detective that Irene came home from eating in a restaurant one night in late February and said she was leaving Gillette, court documents state. He said she packed her clothing into two plastic bags and was picked up by someone in a dark SUV.

He admitted to police that he had accessed Irene’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him but said he has not heard from her since she left.

Hightman has been identified as a “person of interest” in Gakwa’s disappearance and has refused to cooperate with investigators, according to police.

It is not like Irene to be out of contact with her family, according to her brothers, Kennedy Wainaina and Chris Gakwa, who both live in Idaho. Irene had moved to the U.S. roughly five years ago to be near them and met Hightman on an online dating website.

The couple lived together for about a year-and-a-half before moving to Gillette last July, where Irene attended nursing school and worked.

Chris Gakwa said he was surprised to learn his sister was living in Wyoming as she told the family she was living in Arizona. He said Hightman encouraged her to lie to her family about where she was living as a means of isolating and controlling her.

Chris Gakwa said his parents in Kenya have been particularly worried and it’s been hard on them all as they continue looking and holding out hope that his sister will be found.

“It’s very stressful,” he said. “We don’t even want to talk about it. You don’t know what to say or what to do. You feel helpless.”

The Gillette Police are asking for the public’s help in locating a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been seen trespassing on private property or in rural areas of Campbell County between Feb. 24 and March 20. The department is also seeking information regarding possible sightings of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.

Gakwa is described as a 5-foot-1, 100-pound Black woman.  

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Gillette Police Department at (307) 682-5155.

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Gillette Man Sentenced To Prison For Stealing $200K From Boss To Pay For Taxi Business

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20572

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette man last week was sentenced in U.S. District Court to federal prison and ordered to pay back more than $200,000 he stole through tax violations and wire fraud to pay for his taxi business.

David A. Jackson, 37, was sentenced on May 24 for wire fraud, willful failure to collect or pay over tax and filing a false tax return. He was also ordered to pay $203,251 in restitution.

He received just under four years imprisonment for the wire fraud and willful failure charges and just over three for filing a false tax return. The prison sentences will run concurrently.

Last fall, Jackson initially pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, but instead changed this after striking a plea agreement.

According to court documents, from October 2017 to April 2019, Jackson worked as the office manager for some Gillette businesses, all owned by a person identified as “T.K.”

Jackson was responsible for handling financial aspects of his employer’s businesses, including complying with IRS requirements.

During this time period, Jackson owned and operated a taxi business in Gillette and Casper under the names Need a Ride Transportation, All Star Transportation and WYRide LLC.

From February 2018 to May 2019, Jackson committed wire fraud by embezzling money from his employer, diverting money from the employer’s bank account and misusing a company credit card for his own personal expenditures, including expenses associated with his taxi business. 

He used at least three business credit cards to pay for personal charges.

As part of his scheme to defraud his employer, Jackson also failed to account for and pay over to the IRS the employer’s trust fund taxes.

He instead diverted these funds to pay for expenses associated with his taxi business, such as shipping charges, fuel for the vehicles, automobile repairs and more.  

In January 2019, Jackson filed a 2018 individual income tax return with the IRS in which he failed to report $136,008 in income from several sources, particularly the money he embezzled from his employer and other income he earned that year.

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Men Charged With Harboring Alaskan Fugitive, Alleged Kidnapper In Gillette

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20497

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Gillette men have been charged with harboring an Alaskan fugitive who was accused of kidnapping her daughter, recent court filings showed.

Joshua L. Richardson and Clayton R. Salyer were each charged with one count of being an accessory after the fact to kidnapping, a felony. The charge comes with a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $3,000.

The men are accused of hiding Alaskan resident Autumn Wilson, who was arrested on April 19 on charges of kidnapping her 2-year-old daughter and fleeing the state. She did not have custody of the girl prior to leaving Alaska.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Wilson and Salyer were reported to police in the early hours of April 19 as fugitives from Alaska. An Alaska arrest warrant had been issued for Wilson on the kidnapping charges and a second warrant was issued for her arrest in Gillette on charges of destruction of property, breach of peace and shoplifting.

While Campbell County Sheriff’s deputies were on their way to the apartment they were told Wilson and Salyer could be found, the caller told dispatchers the two suspects had left and gone into another apartment next door.

Deputies knocked on the door of the second apartment, which was answered by Richardson, who said that his “Uncle Clay” and his daughter were in the apartment.

Richardson denied the deputies entry into his apartment, saying that law enforcement had already been to his apartment to search for Wilson, but she was not there, the affidavit said. He also claimed he and his uncle “pull women like dime” and that women were at his apartment regularly.

Richardson also told deputies to get off of his property and informed them they were trespassing.

The caller who reported Salyer and Wilson as fugitives then met with deputies and told them the two had been at her residence drinking earlier.

Richardson ultimately left to go to work while deputies were still outside of his apartment and he again told them they were trespassing. Deputies told him they were working on getting a search warrant, to which he responded that if they “touch his door while he is not there, he will have our [expletive] and it is a $400 door,” the affidavit said.

While deputies were waiting to hear about a warrant, they saw someone dressed in a hoodie step out onto the front porch, then go back inside. A few minutes later, they saw a similarly dressed person step out onto the back porch and take a few steps down the stairs.

Around this time, Richardson called police and informed them Salyer would let them search the apartment.

Deputies found this strange, so they checked the back of the residence, where they found Wilson hiding in a fenced yard by a barbecue grill, the affidavit said. She was arrested and transported to the local jail. She declined to tell officers where she lived.

Deputies believe Richardson and Salyer were harboring Wilson in attempt to keep her from being arrested for kidnapping. Her child was not with her when she was arrested.

Gillette police and the U.S. Marshal’s office recovered the child in early May. She had been staying with a relative of Wilson’s.

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85-Year-Old Greybull Man Faces 50 Years In Jail For Impersonating A Dead Person From Idaho

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20501

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Greybull man has pleaded guilty to charges filed in connection with allegations he posed as a dead Idaho man for more than 50 years.

During his initial appearance in U.S. District Court earlier this month, Peter Jeremy Martin pleaded guilty to a charge of making false statements in a passport application. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

He will be sentenced in August. He was initially facing up to 50 years in prison and a fine of nearly $1 million.

According to court documents, Martin applied for a passport in January 2021 under the name of James Delbert Libbey.

But an investigation into Martin revealed that in 1970, he had assumed the identity of Libbey, who was born in 1941 and died in Idaho in 1964. It was also discovered that Martin had a driver’s license under Libbey’s name.

In November 2021, two Diplomatic Security Service special agents interviewed Martin at his home in Greybull. His wife, Heather Libbey, was present during the discussion.

One agent told Martin that in order to complete his passport application, he needed to confirm the information on his application and answer some biographical questions. Martin said this was unusual, as he had received two other passports in the past.

Martin was presented a copy of his application, which he verified was an accurate copy. He was asked what his parents’ names were, but took some time answering. He also hesitated when giving his birthdate and could not tell the agents what high school he went to.

One of the agents observed Heather Libbey quietly attempting to coach her husband on the answers.

Martin again asked why the agent was questioning him and the agent responded that it was because his two previous passports and current application were issued under a dead man’s name.

The investigation revealed Martin was actually born in 1937 and had been convicted of and incarcerated for numerous crimes between 1956 and 1967, including theft, armed robbery, burglary, attempted murder and prison escape in Arkansas and Wyoming.

Martin was paroled from the Idaho State Penitentiary in 1967 but disappeared from public record around 1970. That same year, the Social Security Administration issued a new social security number for the deceased Libbey.

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Explainer: Why Are The Feds Involved In The Casper Abortion Clinic Fire?

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20493

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two federal agencies have been brought in to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fire at a Casper abortion clinic last week.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are both now involved with the investigation into the May 25 fire at the Wellspring Health Access clinic, which local law enforcement officers believe was intentionally set.

Casper Police Department spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday that the federal investigators are being asked to look at the incident because of the nature of the fire and where it occurred.

“The FBI was brought in to consult on any potential federal charges due it being a health care facility, but at this time we do not have a determination on that,” Ladd said. “The ATF was brought in to assist in the arson investigation. That is pretty normal practice for us when we have larger potential arson investigations.”

The fire caused what has been described as “extensive” damage at the Wellspring Health Access facility early the morning of May 25. While investigators told Cowboy State Daily last week they had found the point of origin for the fire, they have not yet reported where it began.

According to the FBI, the department investigates violent crimes committed against reproductive health care providers and facilities in accordance with the the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994.

The FACE Act made it a federal crime to injure, intimidate or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care services, including through assault, murder, burglary, physical blockade or making threatening phone calls and mailings.

The law also prohibits damaging or destroying any facility because reproductive health services are provided within.

Wellspring clinic owner Julie Burkhart told Cowboy State Daily last week that the fire would not prevent the clinic from opening.

“This is something I’ve been afraid of happening,” she said at the time. “I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I’ve seen vandalism, flooding, defacing property and buildings, but never arson.”

Burkhart said she had received threatening letters and emails prior to the fire, but none specifically threatening arson.

The ATF is involved in the investigation as it is the federal agency primarily responsible for administering and enforcing the criminal and regulatory provisions of federal laws pertaining to bombs, explosives and arson.

According to the Casper Police Department, police officers arrived at the clinic just before 4 a.m. Wednesday in response to a report of a business burglary.

When they arrived, they saw smoke rolling out of the clinic’s windows. The Casper Fire Department arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire.

The caller who reported the burglary said a person was seen running away from the building carrying a gas can and a black bag.

The new clinic between downtown Casper and the Wyoming Medical Center will be operated by Wellspring, which is incorporated in Washington, D.C., and headed up by founder Burkhart, who is based in Colorado.

Currently, Wyoming has only one abortion provider and 96% of Wyoming women live in a county without an abortion clinic.

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Nebraska Murder Suspect Killed In Cheyenne By Police On Saturday

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20366

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Nebraska murder suspect was killed by Cheyenne law enforcement officers on Saturday, the Cheyenne Police Department announced.

Davin Darayle Saunders was reported to be in Cheyenne on Tuesday. Further investigation revealed that he was located at a house on East 11th Street in the city.

On Saturday, the Cheyenne Police Department’s SWAR team was notified to Saunders’ location and responded to the area to conduct surveillance. A warrant was issued for officers to enter the residence.

While on the scene, the team attempted to communicate with Saunders and asked him to leave the residence, but he refused.

Officers deployed gas in an attempt to lure Saunders out of the home, but he pulled out a firearm. Officers saw this and fired on him, killing him.

No further injuries were reported, according to CPD, and no further information was made available as of Saturday afternoon.

Saunders was wanted in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for multiple homicide-related charges. He had a history of violence.

Saunders’ alleged victim was identified this week Karen Cooper, 63, of Scottsbluff, who died as a result of gunshot wounds early Tuesday evening in a Scottsbluff residential neighborhood.

Saunders fled in his vehicle, which was recovered in Cheyenne after he abandoned it.

Cheyenne police were alerted to Saunders’ presence earlier in the week after he was reported at a Walmart to have been involved in a domestic disturbance with a firearm.

The scene is still active and has been turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation for further review.

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Nebraska Murder Suspect On The Loose, Last Seen In Cheyenne

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20168

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By Ellen Fike and Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A Nebraska man sought in connection with a murder in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, was last spotted in the Cheyenne area this week, Cheyenne Police Department officials said Thursday.

Davin Darayle Saunders was last seen in Cheyenne at the Walmart on Livingston Avenue on Tuesday night, according the Cheyenne Police Department.

Cheyenne police officers were called to the Walmart to respond to a report of a domestic disturbance with a firearm.

During the investigation, officers found that the suspect, Saunders, was wanted in Scottsbluff on multiple homicide-related charges.

Saunders fled the scene on foot prior to officers arriving, however.

Law enforcement officers conducted an extensive search of the area, including adjacent neighborhoods, surrounding businesses and the interstate highways.

Saunders is wanted in Scottsbluff on a charge of second-degree murder, possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.

Scottsbluff Police Capt. Brian Wasson identified the murder victim as Karen Cooper, 63, of Scottsbluff, who died as a result of gunshot wounds early Tuesday evening in a Scottsbluff residential neighborhood.

The victim was identified as a female relative of Saunders.

Saunders fled in his vehicle, which was recovered in Cheyenne after he abandoned it.

The suspect was still at large Thursday afternoon and had not been arrested on any other charges to Wasson’s knowledge.

Saunders is described as a Black male, who is 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighs around 200 pounds and has brown eyes and black hair. He has numerous tattoos, including ones on both inner forearms, a script tattoo across his upper chest, a script on the right side of his neck with stars at the beginning and end of the text and a flaming skull tattoo above his navel.

Saunders has an extensive history of violence and should be considered armed and dangerous, Scottsbluff police said.

Anyone seeing Saunders is asked to call the Cheyenne police at 307-637-6525. Anyone with information on the case is encouraged to call the Scottsbluff Police Department at 308-632-7176 or Crime Stoppers at 308-632-7867.

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Casper Abortion Clinic ‘Significantly’ Damaged Due to Smoke Caused By Arson

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20148

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Fire investigators have determined where a fire began Wednesday that damaged the inside of a planned Casper abortion clinic, a Casper Fire Department spokesman told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

The fire caused what has been described as extensive damage at the Wellspring Health Access facility on early Wednesday morning and investigators believe that it was intentionally set. While investigators announced they had found the point of origin for the fire, they did not report where it began.

“I don’t think anyone has actually left the scene since yesterday and we are working very closely with the police department on this investigation,” fire department spokesman Dane Anderson said Thursday.

Anderson said that while he had not been to the scene, there was reportedly a “significant” amount of smoke damage inside. He could not say how many minutes investigators believe the fire was burning, but he did say it was “not long.”

He added investigators are now working to determine if accelerants were used to start the fire and if so, what kind.

Wellspring Health Access owner Julie Burkhart told Cowboy State Daily that since law enforcement was still investigating the incident, she did not have much new information as of Thursday morning.

“We hope to be able to assess the damage in the near future,” she said.

She said on Wednesday that the fire would not prevent the clinic from opening.

“This is something I’ve been afraid of happening,” she said at the time. “I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I’ve seen vandalism, flooding, defacing property and buildings, but never arson.”

According to the Casper Police Department, police officers arrived at the clinic just before 4 a.m. Wednesday in response to a report of a business burglary.

When they arrived, they saw smoke rolling out of the clinic’s windows. The Casper Fire Department arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire.

The caller who reported the burglary said a person was seen running away from the building carrying a gas can and a black bag.

Police and fire investigators are now interviewing witnesses and reviewing footage from the clinic’s neighborhood.

Casper Police spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

The clinic has drawn much controversy since its opening was announced last month and was the subject of online debate after the fire.

Casper City Councilman Bruce Knell on Wednesday got into a series of online arguments about the the issue of abortion.

“I’m quite sure you’re not nearly as devastated as the unborn children who are ripped from the womb,” he wrote on a K2 News post about the fire at the clinic.

His comment started a back-and-forth with Casper citizens who condemned him for his comments.

“Idiots like you act like you care about children,” responded Julie Ann Schure. “But you complain if a woman collects welfare. And funny how I never hear people complain about men not taking care of their children.”

“If you don’t have a womb, you need to shut your damn mouth!!” she told Knell.

Knell went on to disagree with a number of commenters, bringing up what awaits people, he believes, if “God’s law” is broken.

“All I care about is people’s salvation,” he wrote. “And making sure they understand the word of our God because I can promise you hell is a nasty place.”



The new clinic between downtown Casper and the Wyoming Medical Center will be operated by Wellspring, which is incorporated in Washington, D.C., and headed up by founder Burkhart, who is based in Colorado.

The clinic is funded by private donors and has been created and supported by a community advisory board of 15 people, Burkhart previously said, including faith leaders, tribal communities and health care advocates.

Currently, Wyoming has only one abortion provider and 96% of Wyoming women live in a county without an abortion clinic.

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Fire At Abortion Clinic in Casper on Wednesday Morning; Police Believe It Was Intentionally Set

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Photo by Desirée Tinoco
20102

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An abortion clinic slated to open this summer in Casper was set ablaze Wednesday morning and law enforcement officials believe the fire was intentionally set.

While the clinic’s founder said the damage from the fire appeared to be extensive, it would not prevent the clinic from opening.

“This is something I’ve been afraid of happening,” Julie Burkhart, founder of Wellspring Health Access, told Cowboy State Daily. “I’ve worked in this field for a long time and I’ve seen vandalism, flooding, defacing property and buildings, but never arson.”

According to the Casper Police Department, police officers arrived to the clinic just before 4 a.m. Wednesday in response to a report of a business burglary.

When they arrived, they saw smoke rolling out of the clinic’s windows. The Casper Fire Department arrived on the scene and extinguished the fire.

The caller who reported the burglary said a person was seen running away from the building carrying a gas can and a black bag.

Investigators believe the fire to be intentional at this time. They are currently reviewing footage from the area to provide a description of the suspect.

Burkhart said from the outside, it appears there is “extensive” damage done to the inside of the building.

However, the fire will not stop her from opening the clinic, she said. She added that increased security measures will be added to the clinic once the damages are assessed.



Burkhart pointed to increasing violence across the country, such as the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York last week and the one at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, as examples of why she was not surprised the clinic was attacked.

“This is, unfortunately, a field fraught with trauma,” she said. “My former boss was murdered. So I’m just living through another traumatic moment. Violence against providers is not going to stop abortions. It’s a universal known that people have abortions and this isn’t going to stop anything.”

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire.

Casper Police spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd and Casper Fire spokesman Dane Anderson did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Wednesday.

The clinic has drawn much controversy since its opening was announced last month.

The new clinic between downtown Casper and the Wyoming Medical Center will be operated by Wellspring, which is incorporated in Washington, D.C., and headed up by founder Burkhart, who is based in Colorado.

The clinic is funded by private donors and has been created and supported by a community advisory board of 15 people, Burkhart previously said, including faith leaders, tribal communities and health care advocates.

Currently, Wyoming has only one abortion provider and 96% of Wyoming women live in a county without an abortion clinic.

Right to Life of Wyoming President Marti Halverson previously told Cowboy State Daily that the clinic is an “abomination” and that her organization was already looking at several avenues to thwart its completion and opening.

Sheila Leach, president of the Park County chapter of Right to Life of Wyoming, also expressed dismay at the news of a clinic in Casper and said that there is an ongoing grassroots effort involving pro-life activists across the state who are galvanizing in opposition to new clinic.

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Campbell County Woman Scammed Out Of $30K Through Bitcoin Con

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20068

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Campbell County woman was swindled out of around $30,000, sending the money to her scammer through Bitcoin transfers, the Campbell County undersheriff told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.

Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said a 56-year-old woman on Monday reported to police that she had been scammed out of around $30,000 after a man identified as “Stephen Weiner” contacted her in March, telling her she was being awarded a grant.

“He claimed he was with the Bush Foundation and that the victim had been approved for a grant program, which required a small investment for a much larger payout,” Reynolds said Tuesday.

The two communicated from around late March until Sunday. Reynolds said since the case was still in the early part of investigation, he was unsure of why the woman stopped communicating with Weiner.

During the two months, the victim made several transactions, converting cash into Bitcoin through an ATM at a local convenience store. The transactions are still being compiled, but the total losses are estimated to be around $30,000.

Reynolds said that criminals like to use Bitcoin because it is harder to track. Due to this, he said it could be difficult to recover all of the victim’s money.

“Whether we can do anything about this or help them out in any way, I’m not sure,” he said.

The Bush Foundation awards $40 million per year to various philanthropic organizations. The foundation actually warned in 2020 of scammers using the organization’s name to try to swindle funds from unsuspecting victims.

“There are different scams, but many promise grant money if the user pays a shipping or processing fee, sends money or a gift card, or shares personal information,” the foundation said. “In some cases, scammers create fake accounts to pose as a staff member, even using names and photos of our staff. They may also hack into accounts of a friend or relative to send messages claiming they received grant money from the Bush Foundation.”

This is not the first social media-related scam that has occurred in Campbell County in recent months. In March, a woman lost $800 in a puppy scam through Facebook when a person posing as someone selling a puppy requested funds for an animal that did not exist. The buyer sent the money, believing the animal to be real.

That same month, a Gillette man reported being scammed out of $15,000 by a woman he had never met face-to-face.

Reynolds reiterated that if a message sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“With this case, they told her she’d been approved for a grant program, but she needed to send money, which is suspicious in and of itself,” he said.

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Florida Man Faces Life In Prison After Kidnapping Utah Teen, Being Discovered In Cheyenne

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20054

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Florida man is facing life in prison on allegations he took a 13-year-old teenager from her home in Utah and brought her to Wyoming with the intent of having sex with her.

Christopher S. Evans, 25, faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison and a $250,000 fine for transporting a minor across state lines “with intent to commit sexual contact and commit sexual intrusion.” Evans was arrested in Cheyenne in March indicted on the charge by a federal grand jury last week.

According to court documents, the 13-year-girl was reported missing from her Roosevelt, Utah, home by her parents on the morning of March 8. The girl’s phone was discovered in her bedroom, along with her Oculus virtual reality gaming headset.

It was reported that the girl had been in contact with Evans through the video game platform and a message that said “Waiting,” sent by him, was discovered on the headset, indicating that he was the one who picked up the girl.

The two had been communicating for more than a month.

Using his online accounts, police were able to track Evans’ location through his cell phone. Around 3 p.m. on March 10, he and the girl were found to be at a Love’s truck stop in Cheyenne inside of his semi-truck.

Evans was taken to the Laramie County Detention Center after his arrest, where he admitted to police that he was aware the girl was 13. He also said they were boyfriend and girlfriend and that their plan was to go to Florida to live together and pursue a relationship.

The girl told police she and Evans communicated these plans to friends on the Oculus platform.

During their two nights in the truck, the two slept in the bottom bunk of Evans’ semi-truck. He admitted to touching her bare breast and over the clothes in her vaginal area. The girl said Evans asked to have sex with her, but it was not clear from court documents whether they had.

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Carbon County GOP Chair Joey Correnti Pleads Guilty In Reckless Endangerment Case

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20025

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The chairman of the Carbon County Republican Party has pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless endangering after a judge denied his request to dismiss the charge, a Carbon County circuit court official told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Joey Correnti IV on Friday changed his plea after Circuit Judge Sustan Stipe denied his request to dismiss the charge stemming from an incident in October.

Stipe denied Correnti’s request because she said he had not proven that any person in the trajectory of the bullet he fired in October acted in such a way that would require him to employ deadly force against them.

Correnti represented himself in the case and initially argued that Wyoming’s “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing the use of force in self-defense, applied in this case.

Correnti did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

Correnti is accused of pointing a 9-mm pistol at Nicholas Chadwick in October during an altercation in Saratoga and later firing a shot into the air. He was charged with reckless endangering, a misdemeanor.

The prosecution has argued that Correnti used excessive force in the encounter with Chadwick, while Correnti said he pointed his handgun at Chadwick only after Chadwick hit him in the head.

According to a police report from the incident, Correnti was helping a woman move into a home when Chadwick, the woman’s husband, arrived and confronted the woman, alleging she was in a relationship with Correnti.

The report said Chadwick tried three times to grab the woman’s phone, grabbing her wrist at one point.

Correnti inserted himself between the woman and Chadwick, the report said, and the two argued briefly before Chadwick hit Correnti near the right temple.

Correnti then brandished a pistol, the report said, pointing it at Chadwick and telling Chadwick not to hit him again or he would “put (Chadwick) down.”

After Correnti fired a shot into the air, Chadwick left the scene, the report said.

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Fremont County Sheriff’s Office Says Woman’s Shooting Of Ex-Boyfriend Likely Self Defense

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20040

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Initial findings suggest that a Riverton woman who shot her ex-boyfriend before dawn on Saturday acted in self-defense, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.  

The office announced Monday that at about 2:50 a.m. Saturday, a 24-year-old male broke into his 31-year-old ex-girlfriend’s home east of Riverton and attacked her current boyfriend, who is also 24. 

Watching the struggle, the woman believed that her ex-boyfriend was determined to kill her current boyfriend, the announcement stated.

As a result, the woman shot her ex-boyfriend through the arm, and the bullet lodged in his ribcage area, Fremont County Undersheriff Mike Hutchison told Cowboy State daily.

“She retrieved a pistol and felt she had no choice but to use deadly force to stop the violent attack and to protect herself and (her current boyfriend),” reads FSO’s statement.  

The ex-boyfriend was taken by ambulance to SageWest Health Care of Riverton but has since been flown out of the area “with serious injuries,” the report said.  

Hutchison told Cowboy State Daily that the current boyfriend also has injuries but they are not serious.  

The ex-boyfriend, Hutchison said, was not armed at the moment he was shot.    

The incident is still under investigation, but initial findings “support the female’s claim of self-defense,” the statement said.  

In Wyoming, the use of force is justified in cases of self-defense and also to protect someone else in the immediate area who is believed to be in serious or mortal danger.

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Gillette Woman Who Defrauded People Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars From Cheyenne Hotel Room Gets Prison

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20016

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette woman convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from various individuals and the Internal Revenue Service through three separate schemes, including one run while she was staying at Cheyenne’s Fairfield Inn, has been sentenced to almost three years in prison.

Alexa Kinney was sentenced to 33 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for wire fraud, using an unauthorized access device and making false claims to the Internal Revenue Service. She was also ordered to pay restitution in total of $172,400 to her victims.

“Alexa Kinney’s sentence shows attempts to defraud individuals and the federal government for one’s own personal gain will not be tolerated,” said Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge for Wyoming.  “IRS:CI will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who try to take from others what they are not rightfully entitled to.”

She initially faced 45 years in prison for on charges filed in connection with allegations she scammed one Cheyenne woman of $165,000, used a man’s credit card to pay for a rental car and lodging and improperly applied for a coronavirus stimulus payment with the IRS.

She pleaded guilty to the charges in January.

Kinney was accused of living in various hotels across Wyoming, often using money raised fraudulently to pay her bills.

According to court documents, Kinney, while staying at Cheyenne’s Fairfield Inn in 2019, defrauded a Cheyenne woman of $165,000. Kinney told the woman she would invest the money, but she kept it for herself, documents said.

An investigation revealed Kinney used the money for her personal expenses and to pay off creditors.

M.F. was not Kinney’s only victim in 2019, however, according to court documents.

In March 2019, Kinney met T.S. on a dating website, where she claimed she was a legal consultant. In May 2019, T.S. contacted Kinney regarding a legal matter and agreed to pay her $1,800 to act as his legal consultant.

T.S. provided Kinney with his credit card to make the payment, the only time he authorized her to use his card. A few weeks later, Kinney began charging food and hotel expenses to the card.

Text messages between the two showed Kinney claimed there was a merchant mix-up and that whenever she used her company credit card, T.S.’s card was mistakenly charged.

Additionally, in April 2020, Kinney applied to receive a stimulus check for $1,200 through the IRS’ website. She had not filed a 2019 tax return and was required to submit tax return and income information.

However, Kinney claimed that she was not required to file a 2019 tax return form because her gross income for the year was less than $12,200, which was a false statement, since she’d received at least $165,000 in taxable income from M.F. in 2019.

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Riverton Man Convicted Of Sexually Abusing Young Girl Faces 200 Years

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19994

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A man convicted of sexually molesting a female child for several years and soliciting sex acts from another now faces a possible sentence of more than 200 years in prison.

Riverton resident David Wayne Munda, 43, was convicted by a Fremont County jury on Friday of multiple charges of sexual abuse, along with battery for punching his molestation victim in the head while she was still a child.

Four charges of first-degree sexual abuse, three lesser sex charges and one battery charge were filed against Munda in August, when one of his victims, now a grown woman, confided to a friend that he had molested her nearly 80 times.  

The woman’s secret soon reached the Riverton Police Department, which contacted her and asked her to tell her story.  

As the investigation into Munda proceeded, another victim came forward, saying Munda had wrestled her onto his groin while he was in a state of erection and informed her he could “make her feel good.”  

In his closing statements Friday morning, Munda’s defense attorney Jeff Stanbury attacked the women’s accounts against Munda by calling their character into question.  

“When someone shows you who they are,” said Stanbury, “believe them the first time.” 

He then listed the various misdeeds the women committed as teens and as children, calling the molestation victim “defiant” and repeatedly calling the victim of lesser sexual contact a liar.  

He emphasized that the second victim’s story grew more intense as the prosecution waged on – a point the prosecutor would counter by noting the early police attempts to get her to speak of the incidents were relatively impersonal, compared to a jury trial.

Stanbury urged the jury to consider that the women may have fabricated portions of their accounts in an attempt at revenge against Munda, with whom they’d had conflicts for years.  

He also pointed to timeline glitches in the main victim’s account and implied that her memory was faulty.

Seth Griswold, Fremont County deputy attorney and one of two prosecutors in the case, countered in his closing statement and rebuttal that the women would have no reason now to upset their lives and schedules, expose themselves to painful public scrutiny and endure the difficulties of a week-long criminal trial just to take a vengeful jab at a former childhood aggressor.  

According to court documents, Munda began grooming his main victim when she was 5 years old.  

“This case,” said Griswold, “is about who you believe. If you believe (the victims), there is no doubt.”  

Indeed, the trial that began with jury selection Monday and ended Friday evening depended heavily upon contrasting accounts.  

Physical evidence, such as an examination taken of the main victim seven months after Munda’s most recent sexual act against her, was inconclusive.  

Munda will be sentenced at a later date.  

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun also prosecuted the case. Lander defender Kate Strike also defended Munda.

Munda also faces charges of child abuse against two boys in a separate case that is still being adjudicated.

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90-Year-Old Gillette Woman Charged Again; This Time For Using A Whip On Son & Wife Over Chickens

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19915

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An elderly Gillette woman who was ticketed last week for smearing honey on her son’s door was cited again just two days later for hitting her son and his wife with a buggy whip.

Lt. Paul Pownall with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the unidentified 90-year-old woman was ticketed on Friday evening for unlawful touching after her son reported her hitting him and his wife with the whip.

“It appears this was over a dispute about a gate that leads to the common property they share,” Pownall said. “The son and his wife opened the gate to drive out to leave the property and the 90-year-old female got upset, because she closes the gate to keep her chickens in.”

An altercation resulted, which led to her hitting her son and daughter-in-law with the whip.

The woman and son live in separate houses on the same property.

Pownall said he believed the victims were only hit once apiece and the whip left “faint” imprints on them both. There was cell phone video of the altercation, which officers viewed while on the scene.

No chickens escaped during the altercation.

The woman will have to go to court for the unlawful touching charge, which is a misdemeanor.

Pownall said her court appearance is not slated until late June, when she will also have to answer for the destruction of property charge she received last week for smearing honey on her son’s door.

On May 11, the woman was cited after her son discovered a substance slathered on his doorknob.

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, he observed a honey-like substance on the doorknob. After speaking with the mother, she confirmed she had smeared honey on the doorknob in attempt to “sweeten her son up,” Pownall said at the time.

He added that the sheriff’s department was hesitant to ticket the elderly woman for any crime, but her son was “adamant” that something be done about her action.

While the mother and son are relatively familiar to sheriff’s deputies, Pownall said this is the first time either of them have ever been ticketed for crimes in the same week.

There had been no calls about either the mother or son as of Wednesday, though, Pownall said.

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Settlement Reached In Wrongful Death Case Involving Former Laramie Cop

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19855

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A settlement has been reached in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of a Laramie man shot to death in 2018 by an Albany County Sheriff’s deputy.

Court documents showed that the federal court was notified on May 2 that a settlement was reached between in the lawsuit filed by Debra Hinkel, the mother of Robert “Robbie” Ramirez, who was shot and killed by Deputy Derek Colling, who has since resigned as a deputy, in November 2018.

No details were given about the settlement, but in her complaint against Colling, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and Albany County Commissioners, Hinkel was seeking up to $20 million for her son’s death, as she called it a “miscarriage of justice.”

Albany County for Proper Policing, a nonprofit organization headed by state Rep. Karlee Provenza, R-Laramie, praised the news of the settlement on Tuesday.

“We don’t know the terms of the settlement, but we know that it is an important step on the way to justice for Robbie,” the organization wrote on Facebook. “Justice for Robbie is transparency and accountability of law enforcement. Justice for Robbie is mental health professionals responding to calls involving people in crisis. Justice for Robbie is a federal indictment and investigation of Derek Colling and the good ol’ boys who protected him by destroying evidence.”

Colling previously argued that he was exempt from the wrongful death lawsuit due to “qualified immunity,” meaning that government officials cannot be sued for performing their jobs.

Colling shot Ramirez three times after a traffic stop in Laramie in November of 2018. Ramirez was shot after being tasered by Colling, who argued that Ramirez attacked him.

Colling was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury, but resigned from his position at the sheriff’s department in 2021 after almost nine years with the department. He is a Laramie native and his father is a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper.

Colling had previously shot and killed a 15-year-old boy while working as a police officer in Las Vegas, a shooting that led to a lengthy lawsuit. He was later fired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for an alleged assault of a videographer trying to film police work. 

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Former Saratoga Cop Pleads Guilty After Threatening Officers Who Tried To Take Dog

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19836

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A former Saratoga police officer accused of threatening Carbon County Sheriff’s officers who tried to take his dog pleaded guilty to a charge of interfering with a peace officer last week.

Documents filed in Carbon County Circuit Court showed that three other charges against Justin Brown filed in connection with a New Year’s Eve incident were dropped.

Justin Brown pleaded guilty on May 10 to one count of interfering with a peace officer, a misdemeanor charge. He will have to pay a $420 fine and received a suspended 180-day jail sentence.

Three other charges, one of influencing, intimidating or impeding jurors, witnesses and officers and two of allowing a large dog to attack a person, were dropped by the Carbon County District Attorney.

Brown was arrested and charged in February in connection with an incident that occurred on New Year’s Eve, when sheriff’s officers tried to seize one of Brown’s dogs, Shaw, that Brown said he was training as a K9 officer.

Shaw was accused last year of biting individuals including Brown’s wife and young daughter.

When police attempted to seize the dog, Brown said that would not be happening and claimed the dog had been taken to Colorado.

Brown then threatened all of the law enforcement personnel on scene, telling them that if they attempted to take his dog, he would “break [their] necks.” He also claimed no one in Carbon County could “take” him.

Police left Brown’s residence following the threat of violence.

Brown was fired in early March from his position at a Saratoga police officer, one of three full-time people in the department.

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Lander Hospital Failed Safety Inspection After Eye-Gouging Incident

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19786

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The Lander hospital where a patient in 2020 gouged out the eye of another patient failed a safety inspection about two weeks after the incident, according to documents filed in federal court.

A Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services “unannounced” inspection of the Lander SageWest Hospital conducted in December 2020 concluded that mental health patients were inadequately supervised, recommended drugs were not given, and a psychiatric patient later charged for murder had been able to wander the facility.  

The inspection report was filed Thursday in federal court as part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Riverton Memorial Hospital, SageWest’s parent company, by the family of Elaine Tillman, whose eye was gouged out on Thanksgiving 2020 by fellow patient Patrick Rose.

‘What Do You Really Do To People Here?’ 

Tillman died nearly two weeks after her eye was gouged out while she lay in emergency care at Lander SageWest Health Care on Thanksgiving of 2020.

Tillman had been taken into custody involuntarily for mental health issues and medical documents said her repeated attempts to disrobe and run away from home “like a stray dog” showed a potential for self-harm.  

According to the documents filed as part of the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Tillman was reportedly suspicious of hospital personnel and afraid that someone was trying to hurt her.  

“Why are you guys doing this to me?” Tillman had asked a nurse who was trying to take her for a walk. 

The conversation occurred on Tillman’s sixth day in the hospital, one day before the eye-gouging incident.  

“What do you really do to people here?” she continued. 

Later, after some calming efforts by the nurse, Tillman thanked the nurse and others “for all you do.”  

The Fremont County Attorney had been trying, medical documents said, to get the Wyoming State Hospital to accept Tillman.  

Wrong Drugs 

Dubois resident Patrick Rose, then 53, was a fellow psychiatric patient admitted to the hospital on Nov. 25, 2020, one day before the gouging incident. 

Rose was awaiting transfer to Casper Wyoming Behavioral Institute for a higher degree of mental care and oversight. But, medical documents state, WBI would not take him until his COVID-19 test returned negative.  

Documents said Rose was taken into involuntary mental health custody after he “suddenly” quit taking his valium and hydrocodone, burned his clothing, ran naked from his Dubois home in freezing November temperatures, put a sheet over his wife’s head and held her in a brief chokehold until she asked him to stop.  

When examined, he reported hallucinations.  

“I saw myself swimming in a pool of Pepsi and even tasted it,” he told an evaluator, also stating “I am in extreme dangerous situations,” and reporting imagery such as cars and rocket ships flashing in his consciousness when he tried to sleep.  

Though he’d reportedly quit taking the drugs prescribed for his acquired brain injury of 18 years, Rose tested positive for THC (an intoxicant found in marijuana) and benzodiazepines, which can be used to treat anxiety or alcohol withdrawal.  

Medical personnel recommended antipsychotic and anti-anxiety drugs for Rose during his brief hospital stay, but “the (CMS) review showed neither medication was administered,” an inspector concluded.  

Rose left his room multiple times during his stay, his care ledger said, wandering outdoors or to other rooms or the hallway.   

Half Supervised 

Hospital personnel insisted that one staff member watch Rose at all times, for a 1:1 supervision ratio.  

Instead, according to a nurse interview taken after the gouging, one person was assigned to watch both Rose and Tillman – a 1:2 supervision ratio.  

“(The) 1:1 sitter ratio had not been maintained,” reads the CMS report. “Shift to shift and sitter to nurse communication and physician to physicians communication lacked continuity, documentation was incomplete.” 

Homicide, Release 

While still awaiting his transfer to WBI, Rose reportedly fled his own room, rushed into Tillman’s, leapt onto her and gouged both her eyes with his thumbs.  

One eye was dislodged completely and dangled on Tillman’s cheek, held by an optic nerve. The other eye remained in its socket but was blinded and badly damaged.  

Nurses restrained Rose until police arrived.  

Tillman died 13 days after the gouging, at the University of Utah Hospital, where she’d been flown for treatment. A Utah death examiner deemed the fatality a homicide.  

Rose was charged with second-degree murder but was released from state custody to live with his wife in Dubois in June of 2021, due to a limitation in Wyoming’s mental health and court proceeding laws.  

‘For-Profit Business’ 

In a motion filed with the lawsuit asking the court to force the hospital to provide more information, Bob Schuster, attorney for the Tillman family, noted the hospital is owned by companies with headquarters far outside Wyoming.

The hospital’s interests “are not aligned with the safety of patients who live in Fremont County, Wyoming,” Schuster wrote. “Rather, they are aligned with the corporate profit interest of the conglomerates” who own the hospital.  

SageWest was owned by LifePoint Health Inc. during the attack; LifePoint in turn was owned by Apollo Global Management, Inc. The hospital then was shifted to another Apollo chain, ScionHealth, which was owned by LifePoint and Kindred Healthcare, Schuster noted in the motion.  

“(It) may be thought of as a hospital,” Schuster continued. “In reality, it is simply a business asset – treated like an unwitting cash cow passed from one business conglomerate to another and happily milked by each of them.”  

Under its various owners, the Riverton and Lander SageWest Health Care facilities have cut services: the obstetrics ward was removed from Riverton; both buildings were sold to a trust, causing the hospitals to pay rent on buildings they once owned, and – notably in the case of Rose and Tillman – the hospital’s psychiatric ward, PineRidge, was closed down in 2019.   

Schuster is requesting evidence from the hospital that has not yet been granted, including internal emails discussing the incident, phone numbers and call histories for “specific individuals who were involved” in the hours surrounding the attack and key documents surrounding “the decision to dismantle PineRidge.” 

The hospital, claimed Schuster, “has attempted… to shield information and documents from discovery in unwarranted fashion.”  

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Fiancé of Missing Gillette Woman Seen Purchasing Boots and Shovel, Arrested on Multiple Felonies

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19783

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The fiancé of a missing Gillette woman used her debit card to purchase items including boots and a shovel, according to documents filed in state district court.

Nathan J. Hightman was arrested May 4 and charged with multiple felony theft counts for accessing the bank accounts of Irene Gawka in the wake of her disappearance in late February. He was released on a $10,000 cash or surety bond on Wednesday.

Gawka was last seen alive during a video call with her parents on Feb. 24. The 32-year-old native of Kenya as reported missing by her brother on March 20.

Hightman has been identified as a “person of interest” in Gawka’s disappearance and has refused to cooperate with investigators.

According to court documents, Hightman is accused of transferring more than $3,666 out of Gawka’s bank account and charging more than $600 on her debit card after he told authorities she packed her bags and left their home in Gillette in late February.

Among the purchases he made was a shovel and a pair of boots and pants from Walmart totaling $36.19, according to court documents filed in the Circuit Court of the 6th Judicial District. Hightman is seen on video surveillance with the items, which were later located at his house.

Hightman also allegedly maxed out Gawka’s Capital One Visa card, hitting the $3,100 credit limit in 80 separate transactions.

He’s also been charged with two additional felonies for changing the password to Gawka’s banking account and deleting her Google email account.

Gawka was attending nursing school and had moved to Gillette last July with Hightman, who she met in Idaho.

Hightman told the Gillette Police detective that Gawka came home from eating in a restaurant one night in late February and said she was leaving Gillette. He said she packed her clothing into two plastic bags and was picked up by someone in a dark SUV.

He admitted to police that he had accessed Gawka’s bank accounts and removed the money, saying he did so to force her to contact him. Hightman said he has not heard from Gakwa since she left.

Gawka moved to the U.S. in her late 20s to be near her brothers in Idaho and broaden her experiences, her older brother, Kennedy Wainaina, told Cowboy State Daily last week.

She met Hightman on an online dating website and the couple lived together in Idaho for about one and one-half years before moving to Gillette, which was Hightman’s idea, Wainaina said.

He described Hightman “controlling” and said his sister was having a hard time acclimating to Gillette given its small size, colder weather and the fact that she missed her family.

GPD has asked for the public’s help in its search for a gray or silver Subaru Crosstrek with Idaho license plates that may have been seen trespassing on private property or in rural areas of Campbell County between Feb. 24 and March 20. The department is also seeking information regarding possible sightings of a 55-gallon metal drum, which may have been burned and/or abandoned within the county.

Irene is described as a Black woman who is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weighing about 100 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to contact GPD at (307) 682-5155.

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90-Year-Old Gillette Woman Charged $5 For Destruction Of Property After Smearing Honey On Doorknob

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette woman was ticketed this week after she smeared honey on her son’s front doorknob in an attempt to “sweeten him up,” a Campbell County sheriff’s lieutenant told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

The unidentified 90-year-old woman and her 59-year-old son have regularly been in conflict in recent years, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Pownall. The two live in different houses on the same property.

“We were called on Wednesday by the son, who wanted to report his mother had come onto his part of the property and slathered something on his doorknob,” he said. “He has cameras on portions of the property, so he could identify that it was his mother.”

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, he observed a honey-like substance on the doorknob. After speaking with the mother, she confirmed she had smeared honey on the doorknob in attempt to “sweeten her son up,” Pownall said.

He added that the sheriff’s department was hesitant to ticket the elderly woman for any crime, but her son was “adamant” that something be done about her action.

“She was issued a citation for destruction of property and the value was $5 for the clean-up,” Pownall said. “He was insistent that she be cited.”

The son cleaned the honey off of the doorknob.

While the sheriff’s office is familiar with both the mother and son, Pownall declined to address the potential root cause of their conlict.

“I believe that like any family dynamics, there’s always going to be the potential for conflict,” he said. “I think a lot of it is they’re in such close proximity to each other that if one does something that agitates or irritates the other, then it just goes from there.”

Pownall added that in his 21 years in law enforcement, this is the first-ever honey-related situation he has seen.

“I would hope that folks would be able to figure out a way to interact with one another in a peaceful manner,” he said. “That would be the best case scenario for everyone involved.”

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Laramie Defense Attorney Explains Washington Man’s 6-Year Sentence For $150M Fentanyl Bust

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A lack of criminal history and for sentencing guidelines for possessing fentanyl were the two main factors behind a Washington man’s relatively light prison sentence for carrying $150 million in fentanyl, his Laramie defense attorney told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

Diego Aguilar-Valdovinos was sentenced late last month to just over six years in prison for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, with around three years of supervised release to follow. He could have been sentenced to a maximum of life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million.

His defense attorney, Tom Fleener, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that federal sentencing guidelines for fentanyl, coupled with Aguilar-Valdovinos’ lack of criminal history, led to a lower sentence than his client could have faced.

“The court also took into consideration my client’s background, since his parents were deported when he was a child,” Fleener said. “He’s a U.S. citizen, but they were taken away and he bounced around some foster homes before his grandmother took him in and raised him.”

Fleener added that his client was not aware that he was hauling fentanyl last summer when he arrested just outside of Cheyenne with the drugs.

“There is no evidence to suggest he was aware of it, either,” the attorney said. “But frankly, he received a sentence of 65 months because that’s what the sentencing guidelines call for.”

Aguilar-Valdovinos was arrested last July when a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper stopped him for speeding east of Cheyenne on Interstate 80.

The trooper became suspicious of Aguilar-Valdovinos, who was driving a 2021 Hyundai Kona, when the man provided inconsistent and implausible travel plans.

The trooper detained the driver and deployed a drug-sniffing dog around the exterior of the car. The dog indicated it smelled drugs inside the vehicle.

A search of the car revealed approximately 24 pounds of suspected fentanyl, a highly potent opioid, inside the vehicle, according to court records.

Aguilar-Valdovinos was arrested and charged with felony transportation, distribution and possession of narcotics at the time.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the average sentence for fentanyl trafficking offenders was 75 months as of 2018. More than half of the offenders, 55%, were sentenced under federal guidelines.

Sentences were usually increased when the offender was in possession of a weapon or for having demonstrated a leadership role in trafficking operations.

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Wyoming DEA: Law Enforcement: No More ‘Safe’ Recreational Drug Use

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The fentanyl-related overdose deaths of five young people in Commerce City, Colorado, in late February are setting off alarm bells for Wyoming law enforcement.

The five who died likely were using cocaine laced with fentanyl, according to David Tyree, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Cheyenne.

And Tyree, like other Wyoming law enforcement agents, is worried the lethal drug making its way into Wyoming as part of other drugs could cause more mass casualties such as the one in Colorado.

The problem is that buyers have no idea what they are getting when they’re purchasing illicit drugs off the streets, Tyree said. Where decades ago that might not have been as dangerous a proposition, today a person’s recreational drug purchase can put his or her life at risk with the advent of street fentanyl.

“These are not one-off events,” he said. “The game has changed because now the new card in the deck is one that will literally end a life. These people aren’t getting a second chance.”

Increasingly, the DEA and other law enforcement agencies are finding fentanyl in other drugs, from cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine to illicit opioids masquerading as prescription pills. The drugs are being produced by drug cartels in labs south of the border, Tyree said, by amateur chemists who might not even know they are selling laced products.

“The people who are manufacturing these drugs are not pharmacists,” Tyree said. “You have cross-contamination and it might not even be intentional.”

What Is Fentanyl?

Legally administered, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s considered a Schedule II controlled substance and is typically prescribed after surgery or for pain associated with early-stage cancer and can be administered as a shot, a patch or in lozenge form.

The illegally manufactured fentanyl coming across the border is sold in powder form, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye drops or nasal sprays or pressed into primarily light-blue pills stamped with “M30,” masquerading as prescription oxycodone. The illicit opioids typically contain none of the active ingredients of the legal pills, but rather contain fentanyl and other binders like sugar or acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and other over-the-counter cold medicines.

The DEA began seeing it in the U.S. around 2011, according to Steve Kotecki, public information officer for DEA Denver, during the height of the opioid crisis once medical practitioners and law enforcement began cracking down on legal sales of opioids. 

The illicit drug manufacturers figured out how to reverse engineer legal fentanyl, Kotecki said, and law enforcement began seeing a flood of illicit fentanyl into the United States, cresting by late 2018 and 2019. The new drug’s arrival led to a wave of overdose deaths seen primarily in the eastern and southern states.

“The cartels got ahold of a new market,” Kotecki said, “and have figured out how to illegally and clandestinely produce (fentanyl).”

The ingredients for illicit fentanyl are primarily being sent from China to Mexican cartels , which are mixing it in with other illicit drugs – either intentionally or unintentionally – because it’s cheap and highly addictive.

Its lethality is what makes it so dangerous, Kotecki said, because depending on a person’s size or tolerance, approximately two milligrams – roughly the size of 10-15 grains of table salt – can kill a person.

The drug’s production is not an exact science, and increasingly, it’s turning up in more of the drugs the DEA is seizing in the Mountain West and across the country.

Recent lab reports by the DEA indicated that four out of every 10 illicit “M30” pills tested have lethal amounts of fentanyl, Kotecki said, and 98% of the pills labeled as oxycodone are actually counterfeit.

Overdoses On The Rise

The DEA began sounding alarms in the spring of 2021 when overdose deaths involving fentanyl exceeded 100,000 nationally.

In Wyoming, overdose numbers are also on the rise.

In 2019, 11 Wyoming residents died from fentanyl-related overdoses, followed by 21 in 2020. The following year, this number more than doubled, increasing to 45 in 2021.

So far this year, 13 Wyoming residents have died of fentanyl-related deaths, according to Cori Davis, statistician with the Wyoming Vital Records Services.

Tyree noted that these overdoses involve people from all social spectrums, from soccer moms and college kids to underprivileged people in urban cities.

“The problem is everywhere,” he said. “I never imagined seeing it at this level, and I’ll be the first to say I’m scared by it. Right now, it’s never been more dangerous than to recreationally use drugs.”

Seizures of fentanyl in Wyoming are also hitting new record highs. According to data provided to Gov. Mark Gordon’s office by the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigations, DCI seized 1,954 grams of fentanyl between 2019 and 2020. 

In 2020, that figured dipped to 3 grams, but rose astronomically the following year to 17,324 grams and 11,267 counterfeit fentanyl pills seized by DCI and the Wyoming Highway Patrol in 2021.

The ease of access and porous International borders also create fluid pathways for these drugs to enter Wyoming communities, according to Gillette Police Det. Eric Small.

“We are seeing unbelievable amounts of controlled substances making their way into the U.S.,” Small said. “The game changer is the accessibility, and the first step is controlling the border.”

In April, Gordon joined 25 other states led by Republican governors in creating a “border strike force” to deal with the “chaos” at the southern border. Part of this mission, according to Michael Pearlman, communication director for Gordon’s office, is to tackle drugs coming in from Mexico.

“Wyoming is currently engaged in planning with other participating states about what assistance we may be able to provide through the Border Strike Force, as well as to gain valuable information as to how we can best protect our state from the flow of illegal drugs, including fentanyl,” Pearlman said. “The increase in fentanyl coming into America from Mexico has been horrific and well-documented.”

Shift In Cartel Production Strategy

In response to the purported crackdowns, the cartels, too, have seemingly shifted their business model, boosting the flow of their product into America and, as a result, Wyoming.

According to journalist Luis Chaparro, who went underground in the Sinaloa Cartel as shared on the “Shawn Ryan Show” podcast in April 2022, the cartels are shifting from super labs in remote areas to smaller labs in residential areas.

Chaparro reported that cartel members are being instructed to no longer drive flashy cars and be overt about their affiliation, but rather to take a more low-key approach as family men and average workers. The new labs are being run out of family homes with one cook producing up to 50,000 pills per day.

This new business model is more sophisticated, Chaparro reported, because these smaller labs are much harder to detect, and if busted, result in negligent impact on the overall business. 

There are also many more of them, he noted. In the city of Culiacan, in the state of Sinaloa, Chaparro estimated there are around 200 labs operating into residential neighborhoods.

Supplies to make fentanyl are coming from China, Chaparro added, with Chinese chemists providing training on how to make the drug. Chaparro said he believes the recipes are deliberately being adjusted to create more lethal drugs.

He also said that the pills are dyed different colors for different geographical markets, and that there is a much more powerful drug than illicit fentanyl opioids in the pipeline. He did not specify what that drug might be or when it might be expected to show up in the U.S.

Unchecked Greed

As to the economics of why a drug dealer might not object to killing off customers, both Tyree and Kotecki said it’s a matter of pure greed.

“These are greedy individuals, and it’s just the cost of doing business for these people,” Kotecki said. “They are not going out of their way to kill people, but they’re not correcting people when it happens.”

The profit margins are exceptionally high, he noted. One pill that might cost 0.4 cents to make retails on the street for between $10 and $80, depending where it comes from in the trafficking supply chain hierarchy and on geographical location.

“It’s purely unchecked greed,” Tyree added. “It’s more sophisticated than I’ve seen in my (25-year) career,” he said.

He’s overhead conversations between drug dealers on wire taps discussing the death of a user. At least on a regional distribution or street level, dealers are aware people are dying, he said. Typically, they are told to lay low for a few days or move to another area.

“It’s not even a blip on their moral compass,” he said.

Taking Dealers Out Of The Community

In response to the surge of illicit drugs showing up in Wyoming, Tyree said that the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, are taking a “corporate response” to getting these drugs off the streets.

“If you are dealing fentanyl in Wyoming, we will remove you from the community,” Tyree said. “You will go to jail as long as possible. It’s the only appropriate solution. If you are an end-user, we will get you help.”

Not only is the influx of drugs killing people, Tyree added, but it’s also affecting Wyoming communities with an increase of crime, thefts and violence among drug rivals.

“We are concerned for our communities,” he said. “These are our neighbors, and we want to work collectively to address the concern.”

Tyree acknowledged that it’s a complex problem and he draws a clear distinction between dealers and users.

As someone who grew up in a home where substance addiction was a problem, Tyree saw both the devastation it does to a family as well as the power of recovery. For this reason, he knew by seventh grade he planned to be a DEA agent.

“I saw how drugs were devastating my own family,” he said. “To this point, I’m not alone.”

Though law enforcement will continue its efforts to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations, Tyree said the larger issues remaining are tackling addiction and working on awareness and prevention to warn people of the deadly nature of these fentanyl-laced drugs.

“People are hurting, we understand,” he said. “There are alternatives to narcotics and opportunities to learn from pain and addiction.”

Those dealing, Tyree noted, will not be shown the same concessions.

“If you are dealing even one pill, you will go to jail,” he said. “We will find you.”

For more information about fentanyl and local resources to help with addiction and recovery, see the DEA website.

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After Mass Firing At Reservation School, FBI Investigating Corruption, Sexual Misconduct, Drug Use Claims

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Claims of corruption, drug use, and sexual misconduct involving the former leaders at the St. Stephens Indian School are now the focus of a federal criminal investigation.  

Lori Hogan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Bob Murray, said the FBI is looking into whether some of the allegations raised in a U.S. Bureau of Indian Education report rise the level of criminal offenses.

“It is under investigation with the FBI,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We will not have any information on that until they’re able to turn it over with enough information to charge somebody.”  

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Business Councils – both executive bodies of the tribes that oversee the school – on Monday released the BIE report that raised a host of allegations against the school’s top officials.

The school’s superintendent, two principals, food supervisor and the entire school board were fired immediately after the report’s release following a vote of both business councils.  

Among other things, the report accused former Superintendent Frank No Runner of soliciting sex acts from minors, consuming drugs and alcohol in his on-campus home and misusing school funds.  

Pattee Bement, the school’s former foods supervisor and No Runner’s wife, was accused of benefitting from nepotism; she also was accused of either harassing or soliciting sex acts from a woman with whom No Runner claimed to have had an affair.   

Other allegations of misconduct were leveled at St. Stephens High School Principal Greg Juneau, who was accused of having taken part in sexual harassment and used marijuana both on- and off-campus.

St. Stephen’s Indian School is funded by both the federal government and by the state of Wyoming.  

In 2018 alone, the school received nearly $1.5 million from the Wyoming Legislature.  

According to the report, the campus must remain drug-free if the school is to continue receiving federal funding.

The BIE is temporarily in charge of the school.

St. Stephens Indian School is an elementary and high school system on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

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Animal Cruelty Investigation Results In 12 Dogs Rescued From “Terrible Case of Neglect” in Lovell

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A dozen mixed-breed dogs in Big Horn County were rescued Saturday from what one animal rescue expert called one of the “most neglectful situations” he has ever seen.

The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department announced its active animal cruelty investigation resulted in the discovery of the dogs at a remote residence outside of Lovell. The dogs were surrendered by the owner to the sheriff’s department for adoption.

No charges have been brought against the owner at this time, according to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, who also declined to release the suspect’s name.

“It’s an ongoing investigation, and the case is being moved to the country attorney for review,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Blackburn said the sheriff’s office had been investigating the animal owner following several reports of alleged animal abuse dating back to February. Multiple reports indicated that the dogs were being held in an enclosed trailer and moved to different locations.

The most recent report indicated the dogs were being housed on the property outside of Lovell, allowing the sheriff’s office to obtain a search warrant that was executed around 4 a.m. Saturday.

“At the end of the day, it was really good because the owner did relinquish the dogs,” Blackburn said.

The dogs were in various conditions, Blackburn noted, and treated by a veterinarian on scene. To Blackburn’s knowledge, none of the animals had to be euthanized. In total, the department will pay for the vet bills that are estimated to cost between $500 to $1,000, he said.

“Most Neglectful Situation”

John Ramer, executive director of the Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary near Hartville, assisted the sheriff’s department in the recovery. He called it one of the “most neglectful situations” he has personally seen.

Ramer got involved in the case after Big Horn County Sheriff Deputy Jeff Angell contacted him about helping his department with the placement of more than 20 mixed-breed dogs in a potential hoarding situation.

The Kindness Ranch only takes in animals rescued from clinical and medical research facilities, though Ramer often helps with rescues by shelters throughout the U.S. in various situations, including natural disasters and occasional neglect cases.

“The mission of Kindness Ranch is narrow in scope, though hearts and reach extend beyond our mission,” Ramer told Cowboy State Daily on Sunday. “It is our philosophy that only working together as a team and lifting each other up will we be successful not just in our mission, but in the overall attempt to end animal neglect and cruelty.”

His team took four of the dogs back to Kindness Ranch on Saturday, where they were cleaned and medically evaluated before being placed in foster care with volunteers and shelters in Cheyenne and elsewhere.

Ramer praised Angell’s diligence and persistence in the investigation.

“He (Angell) ultimately is solely responsible for changing the lives of these canines,” Ramer said.



Vague Laws

Ramer said that despite Angell’s extraordinary work on the case, the sheriff’s department was hindered by budget and resource limitations, as well as vagueness in the existing animal cruelty laws.

“The problem is not the effort, it is the resources to enforce,” Ramer said. “Not just financial and housing resources are needed, but more clearly defined laws regarding cruelty and neglect.”

State laws in hoarding situations vague in defining what specifically constitutes animal cruelty and neglect, Ramer said.

“In the words of one deputy, ‘As long as the dogs have food, shelter and water, there just isn’t much we can do,” Ramer said. “This is vague and inadequate as it calls on the officers to interpret the regulations in what meets the minimum in the eyes of the law and what actually constitutes neglect.

“Nearly 20 dogs locked in horse trailers living in their own feces is disgusting, though according to the law as loosely interpreted by an officer, they had food, shelter and water,” he continued. “For most people, this was very clearly a terrible case of neglect, but the owner of the dogs claimed she was caring for them. So how do we enforce this? Where is the line that separates interpretation and enforcement?”

Blackburn agreed the way the statutes are written can make it difficult to assign the appropriate charges.

“We have the burden of proof that needs to be beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “Some of the animal statures have made it difficult in certain situations.”

Along with more clearly worded laws, Ramer said counties should have better shelters set up for emergency housing of animals displaced by natural disasters and criminal seizures.

“This should not be up to the dedicated work of volunteers or nonprofits who have to constantly fundraise,” Ramer said. “Your local nonprofit doesn’t have the authority to seize animals who suffer neglect and abuse; your local law enforcement agency does but doesn’t have the resources. By bridging this gap, we can make our local communities a happier, healthier place to live for all.”

Neglect Cases Predicted To Get Worse

Blackburn has been involved in a few animal hoarding cases throughout his career, including one involving the rescue of more than 100 horses and about 60 dogs.

Much like in this recent case, Blackburn said that in his experience, the animal owners aren’t “twisted,” but rather are people with good intentions who get overwhelmed and don’t know how to fix the situation.

This is compounded by harsh economic times, particularly with skyrocketing hay and food prices.

“We are going to see more of this as we go,” he said.

Regardless of intentions, animal cruelty is nonetheless a crime, Blackburn noted.

“It’s our job to protect not just the people, but the animals as well,” he said.

Ramer said his organization was happy to be able to help in this rescue.

“The ability to assist law enforcement in this case, in our home state, was an honor and wonderful chance to work locally and make a difference in the lives of these beautiful dogs,” he said.

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Greybull Man Charged With Pretending To Be Dead Man For 50 Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Greybull man is facing 20 years in prison and a fine of nearly $1 million for posing as a dead Idaho man for the last 50 years in a ruse that was uncovered only when he was unable to answer questions about himself.

Peter Jeremy Martin is accused of assuming the identity of James Delbert Libbey in 1970, who died in Idaho in 1964.

Martin is charged in U.S. District Court with making false statements, aggravated identity theft and making false statements in a passport application.

According to court documents, Martin applied for a passport in January 2021 under Libbey’s name. He previously was issued a passport under the same name in 2007.

But an investigation into Martin revealed that he had assumed the identity of Libbey, who was born in 1941 and died in 1964. It was also discovered that Martin had a driver’s license under Libbey’s name.

In November 2021, two Diplomatic Security Service special agents interviewed Martin at his home in Greybull. His wife, Heather Libbey, was present during the discussion.

Upon initial contact, Martin appeared at the door armed with a large revolver in a sling holster on his hip. He complained to the agents about the long delay in receiving his passport.

One agent told Martin that in order to complete his passport application, he needed to confirm the information on his application and answer some biographical questions. Martin said this was unusual, as he had received two other passports in the past.

Martin was presented a copy of his application, which he verified was an accurate copy. He was asked what his parents’ names were, but took some time answering. He also hesitated when giving his birthdate and could not tell the agents what high school he went to.

One of the agents observed Heather Libbey quietly attempting to coach her husband on the answers.

Martin again asked why the agent was questioning him and the agent responded that it was because his two previous passports and current application were issued under a dead man’s name.

Martin asked if he had to continue answering questions and again said he had already been issued two passports. He also asked what kind of trouble he was in and whether he should talk to an attorney.

The agent said if Martin lied on his passport application, then he would have committed fraud. Martin asked how long he could go to prison for, but the agent said he could not provide legal advice.

“Well, I think this interview is over,” Martin said. “I shouldn’t answer any other questions.”

The investigation revealed Martin was actually born in 1937 and had been convicted of and incarcerated for numerous crimes between 1956 and 1967, including theft, armed robbery, burglary, attempted murder and prison escape in Arkansas and Wyoming.

Martin was paroled from the Idaho State Penitentiary in 1967 but disappeared from public record around 1970. That same year, the Social Security Administration issued a new social security number for the deceased Libbey.

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Cheyenne Police Chief Acknowledges Increase In Property Crime, Says Progress Is Being Made

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Although Cheyenne has seen a spike in property crimes over the last year, the city’s police department is taking steps to cut down on the crimes, its police chief told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

CPD Chief Mark Francisco said the city has definitely seen an increase in property crimes such as vandalism, auto theft and burglaries in the past year, but he said he could not speculate as to the cause.

“I know the mayor is particularly frustrated with some of the vandalism that’s occurred on city property downtown,” Francisco said. “We’ve had some success with that in making arrests here and there and we’ve tried to do some education regarding catalytic converters and stolen autos.”

In his weekly “Mayor’s Minute” column issued in late April, Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins called the levels of property crime being seen in the city “tragic” and called on residents to report any illegal activity to the Cheyenne Police Department.

Francisco, who was appointed to police chief in 2021 after Collins decided to not reappoint former police chief Brian Kozak, said there was a particular surge in auto thefts last year compared to years past.

Arrest numbers for burglaries, auto thefts and public vandalism that occurred in Cheyenne in 2021 were not immediately available.

Kozak, who is now a candidate for Laramie County sheriff, told Cowboy State Daily last week that the property crim